Turkmenistan: Leader 'reveals latest grandiose gesture'

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov riding a horse Berdimuhamedov's skills as a horseman form part of his image

The latest sweeping gesture of Turkmenistan's horse-loving president is to give his top officials 10 days off for "good performance", it's reported.

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov told ministry heads and other assembled officials they'd "achieved excellent results in the first six months" of 2013, before sending them home for the rest of July, Turkmen TV reported. Last year, he handed out a four-wheel-drive Cadillac as a reward for a record grain crop. And in 2010, he ordered Mercedes cars for 60 regional governors. He appears to be copying the personality cult developed by his authoritarian predecessor, Saparmyrat Niyazov, self-styled "father of the Turkmen". Before his death in 2006, he spent large sums of public money on grandiose projects while heavily cutting social welfare.

Since then, Berdimuhamedov - Niyazov's former dentist and then health minister - has had a mosque named after him, penned several bestsellers and last month enjoyed a controversial birthday serenade from Jennifer Lopez. When he was re-elected with 97% of the vote last year, election monitors didn't bother going in light of the limited freedoms and lack of political competition. Despite the former Soviet state's huge gas reserves, much of the population remains in poverty.

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