The sudden death of the President of Turkmenistan has plunged the country into mourning but also uncertainty. Saparmurat Niyazov left no designated heir which has raised concerns over the transfer of power in the ex-Soviet nation. With large gas reserves, it is thought rival groups and political exiles could scramble for influence. Niyazov died at 66 after ruling the Central Asian country unchallenged for 21 years. The government has decided that on December 26 an emergency meeting will take place to decide on the succession.
The leader’s body will lie in state at the presidential palace and he will be buried on Christmas Eve in the capital. The mostly Muslim nation of 5 million has never held an election judged to be free and fair by foreign monitors. Despite poverty being rife in Turkmenistan, there is a sense of loyalty for the dead leader.
“We don’t pay for electricity, for gas and water thanks to our president. He did everything for us. We can live off our salaries. We simply have to save,” said one woman in the capital, Ashgabat. Although an isolated nation, it is thought Niyazov’s death could have far-reaching repercussions for Turkmenistan, which has the world’s fifth largest natural gas reserves and substantial oil resources. It is feared political instability there could have an impact on Europe’s energy supplies.