ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP)--Germany’s foreign minister said he disagreed with Turkmenistan’s autocratic leader about the country’s progress on human rights and the rule of law during what he said were extensive talks Thursday.
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met with Saparmurat Niyazov at the golden-domed presidential palace.
"Where we have differences is in the assessment of rule of law and democracy in this country," Steinmeier told reporters. "We are in fact of the opinion that the difficult path trod by the Central Asian states since independence has gone differently, but here in Turkmenistan has been traveled too slowly."
Niyazov, wearing a short-sleeved white shirt and a diamond-studded watch, greeted Steinmeier at the palace with a vigorous handshake.
Turkmenistan’s former Communist leader, Niyazov has ruled the gas-rich ex-Soviet nation since before it gained independence with the 1991 Soviet collapse. He has tolerated no dissent and created an elaborate personality cult in which he is known as the Great Turkmenbashi, or Father of All Turkmen.
A statue of Niyazov in front of the presidential palace rotates continuously to keep the leader’s face turned toward the sun. Golden statues and busts of the president are scattered across the country, and his portrait is on every bank note and coin.
During the open part of the meeting with Steinmeier, Niyazov’s ministers rose when he called their names and remained standing until he indicated they could sit.
Steinmeier said the two sides agreed on the need to work for stability in neighboring Afghanistan, and they discussed oil- and gas-rich Turkmenistan’s supply of cheap energy to Afghanistan as well as Germany’s efforts to help rebuild that nation. Germany has some 2,800 troops in Afghanistan.
Steinmeier said Niyazov had agreed to host a delegation of German members of parliament who would discuss human rights and democracy with state officials and members of non-governmental organizations.
"That is a little bit of progress," said Steinmeier, who visited Turkmenistan as part of a five-nation tour of former Soviet Central Asia.
Dow Jones International News November 2, 2006