Thursday, May 17, 2007

Berdimuhammedov sacks secret police chief

Less than four months ago, I cynically implied that newly "elected" Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov would run the country more or less the same way as his predecessor, the late, unlamented, Saparmurat Niazov. I had to make something of a reappraisal back in March, when Berdimuhammedov took the decidedly un-Niazov like move of voluntarily abolished some of his own executive powers, and even more startlingly, made it clear he would not build a personality cult of his own.

And now the top man in the 'Stan has taken another step to make his own mark, by firing the country's long time state security services boss, vertically demoting Turkmenistan's secret police chief to an as yet unnamed government post. The former boss, Akmurad Rejepov, served as the eyes, ears and iron fist both during Soviet rule and during Niazov's rule. No explanation was offered for the firing, but it's likely that Berdimuhammedov is looking both to rebuild the police state in his own image, and secondly, to reduce any possible threats from within to his own power. Given the political power amassed by security chiefs and generals in a dictatorship, the threat of a coup d'etat to a "reformer" (however modest) like Berdimuhammedov certainly needs to be taken seriously.

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