THE TURKMENBASHI WANTS A RIVER IN ASHGABAT
The great Saparmurat Turkmenbashi, Father of All the Turkmens, or -as he is known in this earthly life- Saparmurat Niyazov, lifelong president of Turkmenistan, is throwing down the following challenge to the forces of nature.
He has ordered a river to flow in Ashgabat, the desert capital of his desert country. He gathered his ministers together and appealing to their patriotism, reminded them that "the self-respecting capitals of self-respecting states" as a rule are situated on rivers. And Ashgabat too will have "its own Thames", thanks to the efforts of French and Turkish construction companies, to whom the Turkmenbashi - who in the Soviet past was the first secretary of the communist party of Turkmenistan- will entrust the historic task of building a river. The river will flow into a big artificial lake which the president has also ordered to be built in the desert.
YOU LOVE US, YOU REALLY DO!
"There is good working relationship between Turkmenistan and the European Union," said Michael Wilson, advisor to the EU's TACIS programme in Turkmenistan.
"I think the working relationship has improved dramatically. And I think the professionalism from both sides has also increased dramatically. They are able to speak with each other and they are able to work with each other," said Wilson.
Explaining the mechanism of interaction between the EU and partner countries, Wilson told, "There are two methods of interaction: PCA (Partnership Cooperation Agreement) and TCA (Trade and Cooperation Agreement)."
"PCA can come into force only after all the EU member countries ratify the agreement that usually takes several years," he explained.
Eight of the 15 member countries have ratified already the EU-Turkmenistan PCA.
On the other hand, he explained, TCA is a handy instrument of mutual cooperation. "Some countries, including Turkmenistan, are working with EU through TCA," informed TACIS chief.
He said that usually countries moved from TCA to PCA. "Both sides are working on different components of PCA. The government [of Turkmenistan] understands it all and has expressed the desire to work toward ratification of PCA."
"Things are improving, relationship is impriving, understanding is improving," Wilson underlined.
"There is constructive dialogue, not just words. There is will on the Turkmen side to understand what are the conditionalities, what are the components of these agreements. There is willingness on the Commission’s side to understand their difficulties," he added.
Wilson also commented that all the EU members were supporting Turkmenistan to work on the components to move toward ratification of PCA and they had expressed willingness to fund this activity where necessary.
Speaking about the recent meeting between TACIS and Turkmenistan in Brussels, Wilson said, "Turkmenistan expressed keen desire to be involved with the European Union in the energy and markets and they wanted to follow up on this which was accepted by Brussels."
"It was expressed that they would like to be involved at the highest level with the departments inside the commission to look the possibility of pipelines to Europe," he said.
Turkmenistan is also interested to expand its cooperation with the EU in the field of education, especially the vocational training.
Over the next two years TACIS would be providing Euro 3 million to Turkmenistan – may be more – in the shape of various cooperation programmes.
TROOPS TO REPLACE TURKMEN MEDICS
President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan has ordered the dismissal of 15,000 medical workers.
It is likely that at least some of the hospital work left behind would now be done by conscript soldiers.
The Turkmen leader said the move would reduce state spending on healthcare and the workers will not be replaced.
Cheaply-employed conscripts perform a number of jobs in Turkmenistan - from policing traffic on the streets to working in factories.
However, it is not clear how much training the soldiers will receive before entering the health service.
The cuts come in every department of the health service but some special groups are targeted - nurses, midwives, school health visitors and orderlies.
This means that very many of those now redundant are women treating other women and children.
President Niyazov says the cuts are part of a restructuring of the health service which is being privatised.
Instead of free health care for all, Turkmens are now supposed to take out insurance to cover most health needs.
It is true that the Turkmen health service is in very poor shape - but critics argue that the mass sacking was done without consultation or real planning.
The army will likely be called in to fill some gaps, as has happened before.
Two years ago, all the traffic policemen were sacked and now the streets are patrolled by army recruits.
And a clothes factory in the ancient city of Merv is staffed by the military.
President Niyazov, who recently banned men from keeping beards, apparently makes his decisions single-handedly.
There is no real parliament or any political checks and balances.
International bodies tend to have their movements restricted in Turkmenistan, while foreign governments tend not to raise their voices against the president's methods.