Turkmen president fires his ambassador to Belgium

.c The Associated Press


ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) - Turkmenistan's president fired the
country's ambassador to Belgium after the diplomat allegedly defected,
state media and an official said Tuesday.

If verified, this will be the fourth recent defection by a senior
Turkmen diplomat abroad, following the nation's senior envoys to
Turkey, Great Britain and Armenia switching sides.

President Saparmurat Niyazov fired Niyazklych Nurklychev on Monday
``for serious shortcomings committed in his work,'' the Neutral
Turkmenistan newspaper said. He was stripped of his diplomatic rank
and state awards he has received in his career.

The paper gave no other details and authorities declined to comment.

An official at the Foreign Ministry said on condition of anonymity
that Niyazov signed the decree after Nurklychev's defection.

Nurklychev had been the Turkmen ambassador to Russia before moving to
Belgium in the mid-1990s.

Niyazov has led Turkmenistan since 1985, when it was part of the
Soviet Union, resisting calls for democracy and economic reforms, and
cracking down on dissent. He has established a personality cult around
and his portrait adorns the country's currency and most public
buildings.

11/30/04 06:07 EST