Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov marked his 56th birthday with a lavish celebration that included a ride on a 350-seat catamaran, a spectacular fireworks display, and a performance by U.S. pop star Jennifer Lopez, also known as J.Lo.
Lopez and her dancers performed
along with Russian singer Phillipp Kirkorov, Turkish singer Mustafa Sandal, and Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram at Berdymukhammedov's birthday bash at the $2 billion Caspian Sea resort of Avaza on the evening of June 29.
"It was our pleasure, and we wish you the very, very happiest birthday," Lopez said, before singing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President."
Lopez is believed to be the first major Western star to visit the isolated, energy-rich Central Asian republic.
As word -- and criticism -- spread among Western media of the appearance, Lopez's publicity team issued a statement seemingly expressing regret for the show, saying, "Had there been knowledge of human rights issues any kind, Jennifer would not have attended."
The statement added that the show was "not political in nature."
The personal birthday wish expressed onstage by Lopez was a "last-minute request" from the show's sponsor, China's largest energy conglomerate.
"This was not stipulated in her contract," the statement said, "but she graciously obliged the China National Petroleum Corporation request."
Media reports say Lopez was paid $1 million for her performance.
Jennifer Lopez performs in Avaza on June 29.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has described Turkmenistan as "one of the world's most repressive" regimes.
Lopez's performance for the authoritarian Turkmen leader recalls Oscar-winning actress Hillary Swank's appearance at a 35th birthday event for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in 2011, for which she later issued an apology.
Belgian action star Jean-Claude Van Damme, British violinist Vanessa-Mae, and British singer Seal also appeared with or performed for Kadyrov at that event.
In 2012, Western pop stars Shakira and Rihanna were urged not to perform
during events in Azerbaijan connected to the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup, due to Baku's ongoing crackdown on media freedom, freedom of assembly, and the political opposition.
Both singers went ahead with their performances.
With reporting by AFP, ITAR-TASS, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, and RIA Novosti