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Turkmenistan Cuts Last Vestiges Of Program For Free Utilities

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (file photo)
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (file photo)

Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, the president of crisis-hit Turkmenistan, has signed a decree that will eliminate the last vestiges of a program that has been providing free natural gas, electricity, and water to residents of Turkmenistan since the 1990s.

The decree, published by state media on September 26, is due to come into effect from the start of 2019.

The state previously subsidized basic goods like flour, sugar, and cooking oil, but Turkmenistan is experiencing the hardest economic crisis in its nearly 27 years of independence.

Berdymukhammedov said residents of Turkmenistan will still be able to receive utilities at "preferential prices." He did not specify what those prices would be.

Free utilities were introduced in Turkmenistan -- a former Soviet republic in Central Asia that is rich in oil and gas -- during the early 1990s by then-President Saparmurat Niyazov.

Berdymukhammedov in the autumn of 2017 signed a degree that limited the amount of free utilities that residents can receive -- with payment required for the use of utilities exceeding the limit.

Berdymukhammedov said on September 25 that the decision to eliminate all free gas, electricity, and water was made in order to continue "the development of a free market in the economy of Turkmenistan."

He said incomes in Turkmenistan "have significantly increased," and that "broad opportunities" for higher earnings now exist for the country's citizens, without elaborating.

In a country where riots have broken out over food supplies, Berdymukhammedov appeared to ignore the frequent long lines for bread, sugar, cooking oil, and other goods, even in the capital, Ashgabat.

"In the difficult transition period, benefits were introduced for free use of gas, electricity, water, and table salt with minimum charges for utilities and other benefits," Berdymukhammedov said. "But times are changing," he added.

"Today's demand is for the effective use of natural resources" and for "each person to adapt" to a market economy, he said.

"At the same time, the country's natural wealth should serve not only the present, but also future generations," Berdymukhammedov said.

With reporting by Current Time TV and RFE/RL's Turkmen Service
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