CSMS Magazine Staff WritersSaparmurat Niyazov, the self declared president for life in Turkmenistan died suddenly las Thursday. He was 66. The man referred to at home as Turkmenbashi or Head of the Turkmen has all of a sudden plunged his desert Central Asian country into uncertainty—a country whose gas reserves are important for Europe, Russia and the United States. Niyazov’s body will be put on display in a palace in Ashgabat for a farewell ceremony at 9 a.m. (0400 GMT) attended by top Turkmen officials and foreign delegations. At noon, Niyazov will start his last 15-km (10-mile) journey to his home town of Kipchak, where a family mausoleum stands next to the biggest mosque in ex-Soviet Central Asia—a huge marble building constructed for him by a French firm. He will be buried next to his father, killed in World War Two, and mother and two brothers, who died in a 1948 earthquake. Turkmenistan is in seven days of official mourning. Niyazov has ruled the country with an iron fist since the collapse of the Soviet Union. He crushed dissent, jailed critics and controlled every aspect of people’s lives—from the clothes they wore to the books they read. That can easily explain the nature of the people who were put in place by the Soviet politburo to rule Central Asia. A statement after a meeting of the new National Security Council and cabinet said on Saturday people “were maintaining their reserve and calm … public order is being upheld.” Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was named Acting President, according to the official Turkmen news agency. Berdymukhamedov has asked the central bank chief to “keep under his control the issue of prompt payment of salaries.” “It is vital to do everything so that in this difficult time, the Turkmen people want for nothing, that consumers get uninterrupted supplies of staples and that all key systems functions properly,” the report quoted him as saying. The statement may have been aimed at countering allegations Niyazov had amassed a large personal fortune. Opposition exiles have asked Germany’s government and Deutsche Bank to freeze accounts in which they say Niyazov held $3 billion. “Why should I be upset?” said a taxi driver who, like most residents, would not disclose even his first name to a visitor. “As long as there is no war, the Turkmen people are very calm.” Turkmenistan watchers do not expect the country to see unrest of the kind that changed governments in ex-Soviet Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan in recent years. But prediction of a power struggle among Niyazov’s entourage, the prize being control over billions of dollars of revenues from gas reserves of 2.9 trillion cubic meters or more, have already surfaced. In a first sign that a battle for succession is under way, security forces led by Defense Minister Agageldy Mamedgeldyev set up the new Security Council naming Deputy Prime Minister Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov as acting head of state. Parliamentary speaker Avazgeldy Ovezov, who was supposed to become the acting president under the constitution, has instead been sidelined after criminal charges were brought against him within hours of Niyazov’s death. The highest representative body, the Khalq Maslakhaty or People’s Council, meets to discuss the succession on Tuesday. Some of Niyazov’s opponents lucky enough to have escaped prison and fled abroad say they hope to return home to help build democracy. But there is little sign they will be allowed in by the new leadership, who vow loyalty to Niyazov’s course. For major powers the future of Turkmenistan’s gas reserves is the key question. Analysts say Washington and Moscow are likely to lock horns in a contest for influence over the future leadership of the country. As well as Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, Russia has sent a delegation of energy-sector leaders including the head of gas monopoly Gazprom, Alexei Miller, to attend the funeral. Meanwhile the United States has dispatched Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Richard Boucher, who is due to meet the new leadership.
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