This has got to be among the stranger cables in the WikiLeaks trove: a cat implicated in a security incident with President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in Ashgabat, in a cable sent January 21 of this year and signed by former chargè Sylvia Reed Curran:
There have been reports about a recent incident in which a motorist crossed an intersection in front President Berdimuhamedov's motorcade as it moved through Ashgabat. Several high ranking police officials were fired after the incident, and the driver of the vehicle was reportedly beaten and charged with attempted assassination. In another incident, a military official was fired after a cat ran in front of the president's car as he was traveling to his dacha. Rumors are also circulating that there was an assassination attempt against Berdimuhamedov last summer, which was immediately followed by heightened security measures.
Somehow, this one is missing from the annals of the many Internet LOLcats websites depicting felines with various funny poses and sayings, but no doubt we'll see some enterprising Turkmen Internet user come up with something, as Turkmen people are starting to gain more web access even as the government bans Youtube and social networking sites critical of the government.
President Berdymukhamedov is especially sensitive to the idea of anyone attacking his motorcade because that's exactly what happened to his predecessor, past dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, in November 2002 when an alleged coup plot involving a crash into the presidential cortège went awry. Some 50 supposed conspirators including former foreign minister Boris Shikhmuradov were rounded up and imprisoned and have not been heard of since.
As for this year's cat incident, as the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights reported, the official press did in fact make a cryptic mention subsequently of an effort to eradicate a neighborhood of stray animals after the president apparently became infuriated at them as he travelled through the area. Aides ordered all the animals for blocks exterminated, which meant many people's pet cats and dogs were caught up in the culling. Such exterminations then became the norm when the president travelled to other cities.
But the pet eradication incident was never tied to news of any actual cat crossing the president's path, and no mention of any other motorists crashing or any coup-related motorcade incident has ever been made, either.
President Berdymukhamedov reprimands or removes or shuffles around his subordinates constantly, keeping them all off balance, but the reasons for their firings or banishments to the provinces or even jailings are never given.
The cable sheds light on the absolutely brutal practices of the security police when these kinds of events occur:
According to yet another source, the driver was a resident of Mary, driving a relative's car with Ashgabat license plates. It is possible the provincial driver was unfamiliar with local regulations. The driver was alone in the car. He was quickly stopped by presidential security and bodyguards before he even got close to the president's vehicle. The driver was reportedly "beaten black and blue" before being transported to an MNB detention facility. According to some, he was charged with attempted assassination and sentenced to 25 years in prison. The acting head of Ashgabat's traffic police department and his two deputies were fired the next day. (NOTE: The fired acting head of the Asghabat police force, Major Babamyrat, is a neighbor of an Embassy employee and confirmed having lost his job in December. END NOTE) The traffic police officer responsible for blocking the street in question was also jailed.
That kind of connection -- an embassy employee having a police officer as a neighbor -- is the sort of fortuitious relationship that embassies thrive on -- and are now likely being rapidly endangered by Wikileaks, making it that much harder for citizens to approach U.S. embassy personnel or for the U.S. embassy staff to reach out to the local people.
Links to WikiLeaks cables may not stay valid as the files are being moved constantly as they have been subjected to hacking and denial-of-service attacks. Amazon decided today to cease providing server support to the Wikileaks operation.