Authorities in Turkmenistan have quelled a protest over food shortages in the Central Asian country by handing out sacks of flour to the angry demonstrators.
About three dozen women were protesting on April 3 against shortages of government-subsidized flour and vegetable oil in the southeastern region of Mary.
Gathering on the west side of the city of Mary, the demonstrators briefly blocked the highway that links the city with the capital, Ashgabat, before marching toward the nearby headquarters of the provincial administration.
But their protest was halted when local officials met with the group and arranged for each demonstrator to receive a 2-kilogram bag of flour.
Residents of Turkmenistan have suffered from shortages for more than three years.
But recent public-health restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic have further curtailed food distribution in Turkmenistan.
Those restrictions include the closure of roads within the country, shutting down border crossings, and placing restrictions on food imports from neighboring countries,
Turkmenistan shares a 1,150-kilometer-long border with Iran, the country in the region that has been worst-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
But Ashgabat has not declared a single case of the coronavirus infection in Turkmenistan -- raising suspicion and international criticism about the reliability of the country's data on the deadly disease.
Iran also has been accused of underreporting the number of its infections and deaths,
According to Iran's official tally on April 4, more than 55,000 people have been infected by coronavirus, including more than 3,500 people who have died.
In a speech broadcast across the country by state television on April 3, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov used the word “coronavirus" publicly for the first time.
Berdymukhammedov said that "the coronavirus is raging in the world" and having a negative effect on Turkmenistan's economy.
He also said officials had been "ordered to take measures to counter the spread of coronavirus," according to state TV.
But Berdymukhammedov did not specifically admit that Turkmenistan now had an outbreak of the respiratory illness.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has said that authorities in Turkmenistan "are avoiding use of the word 'coronavirus' as much as possible in order to deter the spread of information about the pandemic."
"By banning use of the word 'coronavirus' on the streets and never mentioning it in official documents and in the media…Turkmenistan’s government is putting its citizens in danger," the Paris-based media rights group said.