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Struggling Turkmenistan To Privatize Transport Sector, End Science Funding

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has issued a decree to privatize the Central Asian country's transport sector.

Turkmenistan says it will privatize much of the state-owned transport system and gradually end funding for the country's Academy of Sciences as it looks to bolster its struggling economy and save money amid a continuing slump in its energy sector.

A decree published on January 30 by authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov said the privatization process was "designed to help strengthen the competitiveness of the national economy," increase investment, and strengthen small and medium-sized businesses.

The president gave the Justice Ministry three months to propose legislation to transform the transport industry, but he did not indicate whether foreign companies would be able to invest in the privatized sector.

Meanwhile, the government also said state funding for the Academy of Sciences will be phased out over three years and that the organization will be streamlined.

Berdymukhammedov, 61, has ruled the gas-rich former Soviet republic since his autocratic predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, died in December 2006. Government critics and human rights groups say he has suppressed dissent and made few changes in the restrictive country since he came to power.

Turkmenistan's manat currency has lost a fifth of its value after the collapse of hydrocarbon prices in 2014, while Russian energy giant Gazprom's decision to cease purchasing Turkmen gas at the start of 2016 further hurt the economy.

The move left Turkmenistan even more reliant on demand from China, which last year imported 35 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas via the Central Asia-China pipeline.

A year ago, Berdymukhammedov ended a quarter-century-long practice of providing free natural gas, electricity, and water to residents in Turkmenistan in efforts to save money.

On January 25, Turkmenistan began construction on a multibillion-dollar, cross-country highway project that the Central Asian state hopes will help generate more regional trade.

The four-lane highway is projected to link Turkmenistan's capital of Ashgabat, the largest city in Central Asia, to Turkmenabat near the border with Uzbekistan.

The government-run Neutral Turkmenistan newspaper reported that the artery, expected to cost $2.3 billion when completed, will stretch across some 600 kilometers of desert.

It is hoped the new highway will boost regional trade by linking with another planned artery connecting the capital to the port of Turkmenbashi, on the Caspian Sea, the report said.

With reporting by AFP and AP
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