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In a renewed effort to revive its long-standing relations with Turkish-speaking Central Asian republics, Turkey's new leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is on a five-day tour of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Erdogan made a call for stronger ties after meeting Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov on Thursday. Emphasising the need for closer bilateral cooperation, particularly in developing and exporting Turkmenistan's vast oil and gas reserves, he praised the country's progress since its independence in 1992 following the break-up of the former Soviet Union. With Turkish businesses having already invested more than US $5 billion in Turkmenistan, Ankara is expected to further pursue the fate of a stalled US-backed trans-Caspian pipeline to take natural gas some 2,000 km from Turkmenistan to Turkey via Azerbaijan and Georgia. Erdogan is widely expected to become the prime minister after the Turkish parliament recently overturned a law banning him from elected office because of a former criminal conviction for inciting religious extremism. The global human rights watchdog, Amnesty International (AI), in a press statement on Wednesday, deplored the possible forcible return of two former Turkmen government officials and a freelance journalist from the Russian Federation to Turkmenistan. If extradited, AI believed, former Deputy Prime Minister Khudayberdy Orazov, former ambassador to Turkey, Nurmukhammet Khananmov, and the journalist, Orazumukhammet Ylyomov, would be at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment. They were accused of having a role in the 25 November assassination bid against Niyazov. Orazov and Khananmov were imprisoned for life in absentia in what critics say was a grossly unfair trail. In neighbouring Uzbekistan, the Associated Press reported that the country had closed its border with Kazakhstan on Monday because of an alleged mass poisoning occasioned by food products brought in from Kazakhstan. However, health officials in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, said no outbreak of any infectious disease had been observed recently, and that the closure appeared to be an effort to stop the heavy outflow of cash that began after tough new customs rules emptied markets inside the country and forced people to shop in neighbouring countries, particularly Kazakhstan. The former Soviet republic's economy remained largely unreformed after the Soviet collapse in 1991, with trade complicated due to the lack of convertibility of the national currency, the sum. The rise in import taxes has heavily hit private traders - the main suppliers of consumer goods to Uzbeks. This forced consumers to look for goods in neighbouring countries. The Kazakh customs service said that up to 30,000 Uzbeks had been crossing into their country almost daily, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. In a move widely regarded as showing respect for universal human rights, Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akayev signed a decree on Wednesday to prolong the four-year-long moratorium on the death penalty in the small Central Asian nation for another year. While capital punishment is imposed in the former Soviet republic, Akayev imposed a two-year moratorium on the death penalty in December 1998 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the UN universal declaration of human rights. It was extended in the two subsequent years and, according to the new decree, will remain effective until the end of this year. Meanwhile, Tajik authorities arrested two activists of the banned Islamic organisation, Hizb ut-Tahrir (Liberation Party) in the capital, Dushanbe, on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. The two were ethnic Uzbek citizens of Tajikistan and had party literature on them, security ministry officials said. Hizb ut-Tahrir is a secretive organisation that aims to unite all Muslims under a caliphate ruled by Islamic Shari'ah. It emerged in the Middle East and spread to Central Asia in the 1990s. The group has always maintained that it does not advocate violence. Last year, about 100 party activists were detained in Tajikistan for possession of party literature.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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