Turkmenistan frees 4000 prisoners including foreigners
Turkmenistan freed 4,000 prisoners in a show of goodwill towards his mainly Muslim people.
Turkmenistan freed 4,000 prisoners including 19 foreigners on Saturday in a country.
The ex-Soviet republic has tried to open up since the death of autocratic leader Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006. The West, which sees it as a potential new energy supplier, supports its efforts but human rights groups say progress has been slow.
Rights groups say Turkmenistan's undisclosed prison population still includes many political prisoners locked up during Niyazov's 21-year rule.
Niyazov, who tolerated no dissent and named cities and streets after himself and family members, freed prisoners every year in a show of goodwill towards his mainly Muslim people.
His successor Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has kept with the tradition. In the latest move, almost 4,000 prisoners were released, a Turkmen government official said.
It was unclear if any of them were political. The official, who spoke anonymously, said those released were "people who had violated the law but have since repented of their actions".
Foreigners were among those release, but their nationalities were unclear.
Berdymukhamedov, trying to end isolation and bring in more foreign investment, has been chipping away at Niyazov's legacy. He has introduced some economic changes and promised to do more to bring political freedom, but human rights campaigners say his reforms have been cosmetic.
Any public criticism of government policy remains taboo and media are controlled by the state. It remains hard for foreign journalists to obtain permission to visit the remote nation wedged between Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia.
The region's biggest gas producer, Turkmenistan is a key source of alternative energy for Europe. Some activists have accused Western officials of putting gas above democracy in their contacts with Turkmenistan's leadership.
Reuters Last Mod: 13 Aralık 2009, 10:12