04/15/2005, 00.00
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Private postal companies banned

Ashgabat (AsiaNews/Agencies) –Turkmenistan refused on Monday to extend the licences of foreign postal companies like DH and FedEx without giving reasons.

A spokesperson for the government said that "Turkmenpochta [the state postal service] remains and you can use its express service to more than 190 countries. . . . It is much cheaper and more reliable."

Turkmenistan is one of the most tightly-controlled countries in the world: access to telephone and internet is restricted, and TV and radio are state-run.

The move is going to penalise foreign diplomat and trade officials who relied heavily on international courier firms to communicate with the outside world since the national postal service is slow, unreliable and subject to rigid government control.

The decision corresponds however with the apparent objective of 'eternal' President Saparmurat Niyazov, officially known as Türkmenbaşy (father of Turkmen), to gradually cut his country off from the rest of the world.

He has closed theatres, imposed his Ruhnama (or The Book of the Soul, a text which he compares to the Qu'ran and the Bible) in school and required pupils to recite every morning an oath of allegiance to the President.

Unauthorised religious teaching is banned, even if done in private.

Political and religious dissidents have been detained and subjected to torture.

Chief Mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah was removed from office because of his opposition to the President's personality cult and has been in jail for years.

The President's recent proposal to shut down all hospitals except in the capital Ashgabat has raised concern and elicited international condemnation

According to IRIN sources, 15,000 health care workers were fired in 2004 and replaced by military conscripts. (PB)

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