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Turkmenistan Bans Lines Outside Stores So As 'Not To Discredit' President

People wait for a chance to buy subsidized food at a state store in Ashgabat in 2019.
People wait for a chance to buy subsidized food at a state store in Ashgabat in 2019.

ASHGABAT -- Turkmen regional authorities have banned lines outside state stores that sell food at subsidized prices after Deputy Prime Minister Serdar Berdymukhammedov, the president's son, publicly said that "crowds near stores discredit" his father.

RFE/RL correspondents said that in the eastern city of Turkmenabat, an order was issued saying that lines at state stores could be no longer than four people long. Those who break the order will be removed from the line immediately and face possible arrest.

Government critics and human rights groups say President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has suppressed dissent and made few changes in the secretive country since he came to power after the death of autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov.

Like his late predecessor, Berdymukhammedov has relied on subsidized prices for basic goods and utilities to help maintain his grip on power.

The new ban was introduced amid an economic and food crisis and a dramatic increase in the number of people in need of subsidized food.

State grocery stores sell subsidized food from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. only. Each customer can buy a liter of cotton and sunflower oil, a kilogram of sugar, and a kilogram of rice per month in such shops. Sometimes the stores also sell eggs and chicken legs.

On April 13, in the southern city of Mary, about 1,000 people waited for hours to buy 2 kilograms of frozen meat each. One kilogram of the meat cost 36 manats, which is equal to $10 at the state-controlled rate and $1 on the black market.

Food shortages have been reported in the former Soviet republic for months. Customers are also forced to buy additional items at state stores, such as portraits of the president.

Turkmenistan has been caught up in an economic crisis over the past several years despite being home to the world's fourth-largest proven natural-gas resources.

The coronavirus pandemic has worsened the situation, though the government has denied both the economic crisis and the presence of COVID-19 in the country.

According to Human Rights Watch, Berdymukhammedov, "his relatives, and their associates control all aspects of public life, and the authorities encroach on private life."

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