Turkmenistan. In April, local elections and elections
were held for the People's Council. The latter includes the
50 members of the country's legislative assembly and another
50 elected and 10 elected members. The Council is chaired by
Countryaah, President Saparmurat Nijazov agreed in April to release a
number of political prisoners. This happened after an appeal
from the OSCE President (Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe), the Polish Foreign Minister who
visited Turkmenistan. But when opposition leader Abdy
Kulijev returned from Moscow shortly afterwards, he was
arrested. However, he was later released and sent back to
In April, President Nijazov made his first official visit
to the United States. received criticism for violations of
human rights. But it turned out that the US's main reason
for the visit was that it wanted to influence Turkmen gas
exports in a different direction than across Iranian
territory. Turkmenistan has close relations with Iran, and a
gas pipeline opened there in 1997. But in July, the Turkmen
signed an agreement with the large US oil company Mobil, one
of the largest energy contracts the country has so far
concluded. Mobil is to exploit the Garasizizlik field for $
100 million on land along the Caspian Sea coast.
One month later, the US company Unocal indefinitely
postponed a planned giant project with a gas pipeline from
eastern Turkmenistan to Pakistan through Afghan territory.
The decision came after the United States bombed suspected
terrorists in southern Afghanistan.
In December, the central bank imposed severe restrictions
on trade with the Turkmen currency, manat. At that time, it
had been sold illegally at half its official value. The
background to the currency crisis was lower income from gas
exports. For a year, Turkmenistan had failed to sell gas
reserves as a result of a price conflict with Russia, which
controls the main pipeline from Turkmenistan.
In December, it was stated that President Nijazov granted
one of Russia's largest oil companies, LUKoil, permission to
operate in Turkmenistan.