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As US seeks closer ties with Turkmenistan, government cracks down on students

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The US State Department has recently taken up these students cases, but is coming up against a wall of post-Soviet intransigence.

Problems for hundreds of Turkmen students who were studying at private universities abroad began in July. Many were ordered off their flights, by government officials, and ordered to obtain new documents. Today, only AUCA students remain banned from travel.

After weeks of quiet diplomacy by the US Embassy in Ashgabat, which helps to coordinate student scholarship programs, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised the issue in talks with Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov in New York in September.

According to embassy officials, President Berdimuhamedov agreed to allow AUCA students to transfer to the American University in Bulgaria. But on Oct. 2 a group attempting to fly to Sofia were stopped at the airport.

US dismay

"We are dismayed by the Government of Turkmenistan's continued denial of freedom of movement," the American Embassy said in a statement.

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