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article imageTurkmenistan pardons over 1,200 prisoners

By AFP     May 16, 2015 in World

The gas-rich former Soviet state of Turkmenistan has pardoned more than 1,200 prisoners in an amnesty, state media reported Saturday, quoting strongman President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.

"Guided by the traditions of charity and humanity that belonged to our ancestors, our country regularly conducts amnesties of prisoners who were convicted of crimes, but who have sincerely repented," Berdymukhamedov was quoted as saying.

The amnesty saw 1,202 Turkmen citizens and 13 foreigners walk free ahead of the Central Asian state's Constitution Day on May 18, state media reported.

Turkmenistan gave no details of the non-nationals amnestied but they are believed to be mostly citizens of neighbouring countries arrested for trafficking drugs.

The amnesty comes after Berdymukhamedov flew to Vienna earlier this week to meet Austrian President Heinz Fischer, who later confirmed at a press briefing that he had touched on widespread rights abuses in the country.

Advocacy groups had appealed to Fischer to press Turkmenistan on its rights record which places it close to the bottom of freedom rankings conducted by international organisations.

"This is a rare opportunity for Austria to directly raise with Berdymukhamedov issues that no one in his country dares to raise," said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, ahead of the pair's meeting.

Turkmenistan is seen by Brussels as key to to diversifying from Russia-sourced gas imports and EU energy boss Maros Sefcovic visited the capital Ashgabat at the end of April.

Western officials are hopeful that gas from Turkmenistan, which has the fourth lagest reserves in the world, might reach Europe as soon as 2019 via an ambitious $5 billion plus pipeline link that would pass along the seabed of the Caspian Sea.

Russia, which supplies around 30 percent of the EU's gas, has voiced its opposition to the link, ostensibly on environmental grounds.

Turkmenistan outlawed the death penalty in 1999 during the reign of Saparmurat Niyazov, who styled himself "Father of the Turkmen" until his death in 2006.

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