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Turkmen leader wants to end free power and gas

June 7, 2017

The president of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, slammed his country's policy of giving away energy and water to citizens as "ineffective." The subsidies were introduced by his predecessor 24 years ago.

Turkmenistan Präsidentschaftswahlen Gurbanguli Berdimuchamedow
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Tass/V. Sharifulin

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov openly criticized his top economic officials on Wednesday, feeding speculation about deepening financial difficulties in the authoritarian ex-Soviet state. After reprimanding two cabinet ministers, plus the head of the country's tax revenue service and the deputy prime minister, the president then called energy and water subsidies in gas-rich Turkmenistan into question.

Under current regulations, every citizen is entitled to 35 kilowatt hours of electricity and 50 cubic meters of natural gas each month. The state also provides 250 liters (66 gallons) of water per day. The subsidies were introduced by Berdymukhamedov's predecessor, the eccentric dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, in 1993.

The state built a lavish monument to Berdymukhamedov in 2015
The state built a lavish monument to Berdymukhamedov in 2015Image: Getty Images/AFP/I. Sasin

According to media reports on Wednesday, Berdymukhamedov slammed the remaining subsidies as "completely ineffective" and said that assistance should be provided only to people in need.

No more free fuel

The 59-year-old strongman also instructed the officials to "prepare proposals for the cancellation of all benefits." Additionally, he called for his government to "accelerate the transition to market-based relationships" in the state-dominated economy.

The current president took power in 2006, and established his own subsidy for gasoline in 2008, allowing every car owner in the country to receive 120 liters of fuel every month. The measure was scrapped in 2014, with the president citing "sustainable development" and "rational use" of fuel as the reason to nix the move.

Turkmenistan has the fourth-largest natural gas reserves in the world. However, the country is running out of buyers for the resource, after clashing with Russia and Iran over the price in recent years. Currently, China is the only major buyer for Turkmenistan's gas.

dj/msh (AFP, Reuters, Interfax)

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