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After Weeks Of Death Rumors, Turkmen President Opens Conference

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (right) meets with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Turkmenbashi on August 12.

ASHGABAT -- Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has given the opening speech at the Caspian Economic Forum in Turkmenistan -- his first public appearance since July 5 amid rumors that he had died or had slipped into a coma during hospital treatment.

Shown in a live video broadcast on August 12 from the conference at the Avaza tourist zone near the city of Turkmenbashi, Berdymukhammedov stood at a podium for more than 20 minutes to deliver his speech.

Berdymukhammedov appeared robust and healthy -- speaking clearly and coherently while he addressed foreign dignitaries in the audience.

Other short video clips from the sidelines of the August 12 conference showed Berdymukhammedov meeting separately with the prime ministers of Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan, and with Iran's first vice president, Eshaq Jahangiri.

Photos from the conference hall also showed Berdymukhammedov sitting in the audience next to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Medvedev and Berdymukhammedov sit inside a Russian-made limousine at the Caspian Economic Forum.
Medvedev and Berdymukhammedov sit inside a Russian-made limousine at the Caspian Economic Forum.

Unconfirmed rumors of Berdymukhammedov's death were reported by Russian media on July 20 -- more than two weeks after the 62-year-old authoritarian ruler had last been shown making a public appearance.

Berdymukhammedov had officially been on vacation for nearly a week when Aslan Rubayev, the director of the Center for Monitoring Eurasian Problems, told the Russian radio station and Internet news site on July 20 that Berdymukhammedov had died of acute renal failure.

Public Absence

After Rubayev's comments were widely quoted by other Russian media outlets, he withdrew his remarks and said they were unfounded.

But Berdymukhammedov's ongoing absence from any public appearance fueled speculation about his health -- including rumors that he might have died or fallen into a coma during hospital treatment.

State television did show footage that it claimed had been shot in July while Berdymukhammedov was on vacation, riding a horse, training troops, playing piano, and driving a jeep around the continuously burning Darvaza natural-gas crater in central Turkmenistan.

However, there was no independent confirmation that any of that footage had been made after July 5, and much of it was thought to have been shot at an earlier time.