Former Top Turkmen Official Reportedly Dies Of COVID.

ASHGABAT -- Former top Turkmen official Gurbanmukhammed Kasymov has reportedly died of COVID-19 as authorities continue to deny the presence of the coronavirus within the country's borders.

Several separate sources close to the government told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity that Kasymov, once one of the most influential politicians in Turkmenistan, died on September 2 in his native village on the outskirts of Ashgabat.

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Kasymov, 67, used to serve as a deputy prime minister, foreign minister, interior minister, and justice minister after the tightly controlled Central Asian nation gained independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
After leaving the government in 2001, Kasymov served as Turkmenistan's ambassador to China until 2008 and then as the country's ambassador to neighboring Kazakhstan for one year. There was no official announcement about Kasymov's death. Last week, sources told RFE/RL that Turkmenistan's current foreign minister, Rashid Meredov, had been hospitalized for COVID-19. Turkmenistan has not officially reported a single coronavirus infection since the pandemic started in March last year. The government remains steadfast in its zero-infections claim despite signs of outbreaks across the country, such as increasingly overcrowded hospitals and changes to the academic calendar that have extended the summer holiday.

RFE/RL correspondents have reported from across the country that the number of people believed to have died from COVID-19 has increased dramatically and many have to bury their loved ones in plastic bags, as they cannot afford burial expenditures.

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RFE/RL journalists report the news in 22 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established, including Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Russia.

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