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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Turkmen Leader in Brussels

BRUSSELS -- Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov began a visit to Brussels on Monday to discuss closer energy ties, and a leading Turkmen rights group urged the European Union to link any agreements to civil liberties.

In Brussels, Berdymukhammedov met European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and the commissioners for external relations, trade and energy. He will also meet EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and officials of NATO.

The EU is keen to reduce its dependency on Russian supply by boosting ties with Central Asia, a strategy that has raised concerns given the rights records of countries in the region.

The state Turkmen Khabarlary news agency said last week that Berdymukhammedov saw Europe as "a key priority in Turkmenistan's foreign strategy."

"The visit ... will pave the way for a new phase in Turkmenistan's partnership with EU member states," the agency said.

The Vienna-based Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights said closer ties would be beneficial for both sides but stressed that conditions for Turkmens remained "appalling."

"We are concerned with the fact that Turkmenistan remains a totalitarian state with a single-party political system and nontransparent economy," the group said in a statement.