Asia-Pacific

Turkmen leader backs moves towards private media

Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov
Image caption Rights groups say the president's moves are purely cosmetic

Turkmenistan's ruler has proposed allowing private media to operate in the one-party state.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was also quoted in the official media as saying new parties could also be formed, but that it should not happen too soon.

The ex-Soviet state has seen some liberalising reforms in recent years.

But critics say the changes are only cosmetic, and that the government does not tolerate dissent.

Turkmenistan is the only former Soviet republic where all media is state-controlled. The authorities monitor media outlets, operate printing presses and lay down editorial policies.

"I will order proposals to be submitted for the establishment of private newspapers and magazines," Mr Berdymukhamedov said to officials, according to government paper Neutral Turkmenistan.

He suggested that the Union of Private Industrialists and Entrepreneurs take a lead on the issue.

It is unclear whether the move was restricted to business and trade publications.

'Cruelty'

Turkmenistan is the largest gas producer in Central Asia.

The country has made moves towards liberalisation since the death of its autocratic leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, in 2006.

However opposition figures say it remains one of the most repressive and corrupt regimes in the world.

Reporters without Borders said Turkmen authorities had refused to let a journalist travel to the Netherlands to seek medical treatment for a detached retina.

"The government's refusal to permit it seems to be an act of pointless and incomprehensible cruelty," the media watchdog said in a statement.

Annamamed Myatiyev and his wife, also a reporter, had worked for Neutral Turkmenistan but had been fired.

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