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Turkmenistan Holds National Horse Day, Authoritarian Leader Reveals $680 Million Spent On His Passion

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov was shown on state television riding a horse in front of the crowd.

Turkmenistan has marked its national Horse Day, an annual holiday particularly loved by authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

Turkmenistan continues to host crowded festivities, sports competitions, and horse races despite the coronavirus pandemic. Officially, the tightly controlled country has not registered any coronavirus cases, a claim critics and health experts doubt.

State media reported a series of events were held on April 26, including a race at the Equestrian Sports Complex near Ashgabat, the annual horse-beauty contest, art shows, and dancing performances.

The president, who is known for his love of horses and has authored books on the national Akhal-Teke horse breed, also received gifts from horse breeders.

In turn, Berdymukhammedov awarded cash prizes to artists depicting horses in their work and gave the keys of an Audi Q8 to the winner of the horse-beauty contest.

RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service reported that Berdymukhammedov is believed to have hundreds of Akhal-Teke horses.

Critics of Turkmenistan’s government, as well as experts familiar with the country's equestrian issues, argue that Akhal-Teke horses have become a tool of corruption and a growing personality cult in recent years.

In a statement issued on state media, Berdymukhammedov said that the staggering sum of $680 million had been allocated to improve the living conditions of horses and their breeders.

It was unclear over what time period the money was spent, but it comes as the gas-rich country faces economic troubles due to low global energy prices and the coronavirus pandemic.

Turkmenistan in recent years has also faced widespread shortages of food supplies and price hikes for food staples.