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The embassy did not speculate on the reason for the intimidation of the students, but the United States has accused the former Soviet republic of major human rights violations.

Embassy spokesman Andrew Paul told Reuters news agency that many students have withdrawn applications for the program and students returning from the U.S. are under pressure to cut ties with American friends.

“We are concerned about these instances of pressure on Turkmen students and have a regular dialogue with Turkmen authorities on educational programs and the importance of increased openness,” he added.

Turkmen authorities say they have been trying to encourage human rights reform since the death two years ago of the authoritarian leader, Saparmurat Niyazov.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.