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Liquor Banned In Turkmen Capital Ahead Of International Games

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov with officials of the upcoming 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games during Melon Day celebrations in Ashgabat on August 18.

Turkmen authorities have banned sales of alcohol in the capital, Ashgabat, ahead of the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG) next month.

Media reports said on August 19 that liquor stores were closed down and alcoholic products taken off the shelves of food stores in the city.

There was no official announcement of an alcohol ban, but merchants at several liquor stores said authorities had ordered alcohol sales halted until October, AP reported.

AFP quoted an unidentified official in the Trade Ministry as saying the ban is related to the hosting of the AIMAG, which will place in Ashgabat from September 17 to September 27.

"The main goal of the ban is to ensure peace and public order in the country in connection with the strengthened regime introduced by law enforcement agencies from August 17," the official said.

Turkmenistan wants to use the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games -- the hosting of which was the brainchild of authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov -- to boost its image as a regional sports hub.

The isolated nation expects tens of thousands of foreigners to visit during the event.

Ahead of the competition, authorities have restricted the movement of residents of the provinces to the capital, ordered former inmates to stay away from the games' venues, and tried to clear the city of stray dogs and cats as well child beggars.

Earlier this month, the New York-based Human Rights Watch and the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights in Vienna called on the Olympic Council of Asia to remind Turkmenistan of its rights obligations.

As the organizer of the upcoming competition, the Olympic Council of Asia “should urge the Turkmen government to ensure that all journalists can do their work without fear of retaliation ahead of, during, and after the games,” an August 8 statement said.

The call came after a correspondent for RFE/RL in Turkmenistan was threatened with death by a man who identified himself as a police officer.

While en route to take photos documenting Turkmenistan's Day of Bicycles on July 29, Soltan Achilova said the man warned her against taking photos or she will be "finished."

The previous week Achilova, 68, said a man tried to steal her cellphone as she was about to take a picture. The two recent attacks follow several incidents of harassment against Achilova in November 2016.

With reporting by AFP an AP