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Turkmen President Urges Less Use Of Computers, Mobile Phones In Promoting Traditional Pastimes

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is often seen surrounded by computer screens, Now he wants his countrymen to limit the time they spend with modern technology. (file photo)

Often seen with several laptops on his big office desk, it was a bit peculiar when the mercurial president of Turkmenistan called for his citizens to beware of the health hazards of spending too much time using modern gadgets.

"Because of the development of modern technology and information systems, many children and adolescents as well as people of all ages spend too much time on their computers, mobile phones, and tablets," Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov told parliament on February 11 in a speech shown on nationwide state news programs.

"This leads to people being less physically active.... Such a lifestyle negatively impacts the eyesight and causes people to gain weight and other health problems," the president warned.

The government and society as a whole has an urgent duty to address the problem, he added.

While Berdymukhammedov did make valid points about the health hazards associated with spending an excessive amount of time on modern technology, it's unclear if the president is actually concerned about his people's well-being or whether he intends to perhaps further restrict their access to the Internet.

Many Turkmen connect to the Internet using their mobile phones, but the government strictly controls access, and blocks viewers from going to independent news sites and all the major social-media sites, such as Facebook and VKontakte.

Berdymukhammedov said the government and society, in general, should encourage the country's young people to learn national sports and games as well as Turkmen traditions.

He urged lawmakers and government officials to "further expand" awareness campaigns among the youth about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, proper nutrition, and engaging in physical fitness and sports.

In power since 2006, Berdymukhammedov also emphasized the importance of educating children about Turkmen culture, art, language, and history.

A trained dentist, the authoritarian president often speaks about engaging in a healthy lifestyle and is frequently shown on state television lifting weights in a gym, cycling, or horse riding -- a luxury that most Turkmen cannot afford.

Get Healthy! That’s An Order.
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Turkmenistan holds an annual special week of "health and happiness," with government officials ordering people to take part in compulsory exercise sessions and long walks.

The government has also taken measures to restrict smoking and the consumption of alcohol.

Turkmenistan has recently prohibited the use of mobile phones in schools and several parents have been fined after their children were found to be violating the ban.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service