tampabay.com

Turkmen president gets spoils

On his 50th birthday, he gives himself a gold and diamond pendant and a 30 percent raise.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published July 1, 2007


ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan - Turkmenistan's president awarded himself a large gold and diamond pendant and a 30 percent raise to celebrate his 50th birthday, an echo of the lavish personality cult built around his autocratic late predecessor.

The government also issued 200 gold and 200 silver commemorative coins decorated with Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov's portrait, the Neutral Turkmenistan newspaper said Saturday.

Berdymukhamedov decorated himself with the Motherland Order - a gold pendant bedecked with diamonds on a massive golden chain lined with gems - for his "outstanding achievements, " the newspaper said. The piece weighed more than 2 pounds.

As part of the award, Berdymukhamedov also received $20, 000 and a 30 percent salary and pension increase, it said. The report did not say how much he was making.

"All my efforts are aimed at ensuring that Turkmens lead a decent life, that people don't need anything, that they are happy, " Berdymukhamedov said at the award ceremony, according to the report. "I would like to stress this once again today: I will not step back from my plans and will continue doing all I can for the sake of the country and people."

Berdymukhamedov, elected in February, has signaled more openness - including opening Internet cafes - in this natural gas-rich but impoverished ex-Soviet republic, where the average monthly salary is $90.

Yet he has also vowed to adhere largely to the course set by Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in December after a two-decade rule that quashed dissent and cultivated an extravagant personality cult.

Niyazov received 40 awards and also issued coins with his portrait to celebrate his birthdays.

Massive statues of him abound, including a golden one in the capital of Ashgabat that rotates to follow the sun's path.

"Step by step (Berdymukhamedov) is beginning to reproduce the style and the aesthetics of Niyazov's regime, " said Arkady Dubnov, a Russian Central Asia analyst. "There must be some rules in that society that require that the sun - embodied by a sacred figure - must be replaced by another sun."