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Turkmen Leader Demands One-Fifth Annual Grain Increase --> Workers in Turkmenistan picking the country's most plentiful crop, cotton (file photo) (ITAR-TASS) November 28, 2006 -- Turkmenistan's president, Saparmurat Niyazov, has demanded in a nationally televised address that grain output be increased by an annual 20 percent.

In the comments, on November 27, Niyazov said agriculture growth should reflect expansion of the country's gross domestic product (GDP).

Independent figures on Turkmenistan are difficult to find, and international observers have expressed serious skepticism at official economic data in the country.

Widespread poverty persists despite considerable oil and gas reserves, and authorities are reluctant to concede the extent of economic hardship.

"The annual growth of our GDP is 20 percent," Niyazov said. "Therefore, the grain harvest should also increase by 20 percent annually."

Niyazov the same day dismissed the governors of the Dashhowuz and Lepab regions, as well as the head of Turkmenistan's state grain agency,Turkmengallaonumleri, for "serious shortcomings" in their work.

Niyazov publicly criticized the outgoing officials for allegedly falsifying winter grain-planting statistics and raw cotton-harvest figures.

Their replacements have vowed to "work honestly" and fulfill Niyazov's orders.

(Watan TV,