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Cash-Flow Problem: People In Turkmenistan Detained Just For Standing At ATMs

People wait in long lines to withdraw cash from an ATM machine in Ashgabat earlier this month.
People wait in long lines to withdraw cash from an ATM machine in Ashgabat earlier this month.

TURKMENABAT, Turkmenistan -- Police in Turkmenistan's eastern region of Lebap are detaining people who are standing in long lines at ATMs, desperately to try to get money amid cash shortages.

RFE/RL correspondents in the region are reporting that those detained have been released after being instructed not to stand in lines at ATMs.

Local state companies and other entities are also instructing employees not to stand in lines at automated teller machines.

The police actions were reported after President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov on August 19 publicly criticized people standing in lines at ATMs and reprimanded Central Bank chief Merdan Annadurdyev for what he called "weak control over ATM operations."

All salaries, pensions, and student stipends in Turkmenistan can be obtained via bank cards only.


Turkmen citizens are allowed to withdraw no more than 200 manats ($57) per day using their cards. They often have to spend nights in long lines at ATMs to get cash, as the machines frequently run out of banknotes.

Some residents in the Lebap region use black-market intermediaries to help them get the money they need from ATMs in the country’s capital, Ashgabat, where the machines are usually better provisioned. The intermediaries provide the service in exchange for a 10 percent fee.

Turkmenistan's tightly controlled economy is struggling, with government revenues depleted due in part to unsuccessful energy deals and low global prices for natural gas, the Central Asian country's main export.

For months, the country struggled with shortages of staple foods in shops. The government has also decreased or abandoned subsidies on household needs such as water, gas, and electricity.

Government critics and human rights groups say Berdymukhammedov has suppressed dissent and made few changes in the restrictive country since he came to power after the death of autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006.

Like Niyazov, Berdymukhammedov long relied on subsidized prices for basic goods and utilities to help maintain his grip on power.