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Fall of Turkmen Leader Mourned by Chinese President
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Chinese President Hu Jintao sent a message of condolences on Thursday to Turkmenistan's acting President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov over the death of President Saparmurat Niyazov.

Hu's message, on behalf of the Chinese government and people, expressed "deep-felt" condolences on the death of Turkmenistan's President Niyazov and "sincere" sympathies to the government and people of Turkmenistan and the president's family.

Niyazov, 66, who held power for two decades, died early Thursday of a heart attack.

Hu said in the message that President Niyazov was an "intimate" friend of the Chinese people and had made an "outstanding" contribution to the friendly and cooperative relations between China and Turkmenistan.

"His death was not only a great loss for the people of Turkmenistan but also means that the Chinese people have lost a sincere friend," said Hu.

China attaches great importance to relations with Turkmenistan and cherishes the traditional friendship between the two countries, he said in the message.

China is willing to work with Turkmenistan to maintain the friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries, he said.

Turkmen TV announced that Niyazov died at 1:10 AM of heart failure and showed a black-framed portrait of the leader. An announcer in a dark suit read a list of Niyazov's accomplishments.

The funeral is to be held on Sunday in his hometown of Kipchak, where Niyazov built Central Asia's largest mosque, called "Spirit of Turkmenbashi," at a reported cost of more than US$100 million. Turkmenbashi, meaningĀ  "Leader of the Turkmens" was a common nickname for Niyazov.

"We express our deep condolence for the death of President Niyazov," Chinese Counsellor to Turkmenistan Li Hua told China Daily yesterday from Almaty in a telephone interview.

China ratified the Sino-Turkmenistan Co-operative Agreement on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism in October.

Niyazov also supported energy collaboration with China. In an interview with Xinhua in March, he welcomed Chinese firms to his country to help tap its oil resources around the Caspian Sea. Turkmenistan has the world's fifth-largest natural gas reserves.

Niyazov visited China thrice; and during his most recent visit in April, he signed a joint statement with President Hu Jintao on a natural-gas pipeline project. Under the framework agreement, the two countries are to build a pipeline from the Amu-darya River region in Turkmenistan to China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. China will purchase 30 billion cubic meters of gas each year for 30 years, starting in 2009.

Chinese Ambassador to Turkmenistan Lu Guisheng said in September that the project had been approved by the Chinese Government.

However, Niyazov' death may put energy co-operation projects with China in doubt, Sun Zhuangzhi, director at the Department of Central Asia Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told China Daily.

Above all, "his death poses a big challenge for the country, which is not well prepared for a power transition, and may lead to political vacuum," he said.

In Ashgabat, the capital, no overt signs of Niyazov's passing were visible although pedestrians appeared quiet and stunned.

Turkmenistan's State Security Council named Deputy Prime Minister Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov the acting president. He has also taken charge of the funeral arrangements, it said.

The State Security Council declared a week of national mourning, calling on the country's people to show "firmness and strength" and "unite for the sake of our homeland's peace and prosperity."

Niyazov had led Turkmenistan since 1985, when it was still a Soviet republic.

(Xinhua News Agency, China Daily December 22, 2006)


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