Turkmen leader mocked over firing range visit

Turkmen President Berdimuhamedov at shooting range, June 2019 Image copyright Turkmen TV
Image caption It's not known whether Mr Berdimuhamedov is proud of his 'Turkmenator' nickname

Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has reinforced his official image as a man of action by firing a pistol at targets from a moving bicycle during a military exercise.

But the footage, shown on state-run Altyn Asyr TV over enthusiastic praise of the leader's "marksman accuracy", has prompted mockery online and in the exiled opposition media.

The president carried out a snap inspection of air and land forces at an unspecified location, arriving in an unusual gold-coloured van from which he emerged dramatically via a narrow side-door.

After some preliminaries, he proceeded to fire at targets from an open vehicle, "once again showing the sharp-shooter accuracy he has acquired over the years", the official TDH news agency says.

But the main event was his later exploit in "performing bicycle turns in front of a set of targets, opening fire and clearly hitting them".

Image copyright Turkmen TV
Image caption The bicycle exploit attracted the most comment

President Berdimuhamedov had "once again proven his physical training and skill, and set a shining example to the servicemen", according to TDH.

As if that weren't enough, the president piloted his own helicopter to and from the exercises, pausing only to admire Goragchy, a service dog the border guards had given him a gift three years ago.

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The Chronicles of Turkmenistan opposition site posted a version of the report, edited with comic musical effects, on its YouTube channel, where it has racked up nearly half an million views.

Social media reaction mixes mockery of the apparently staged footage with anger at the antics of the authoritarian head of state, frequently referring to him by the nickname "Turkmenator".

"Nato is terrified, Russia and Trump have ordered their air and space forces to be replaced with bike squads, the Taliban are ready to convert to Christianity, and China is producing armoured bicycles for our army," writes one reader of the Chronicles site, while another marvels at the way the president "simulates pistol recoil".

'Hungry people'

"Must Turkmenistan endure this circus much longer?" asks one YouTube viewer, and some commentators think the public have had enough.

"You don't scare your poor people by shooting from a bicycle - the hungry people will soon devour you," writes one, but others think the Turkmen government has nothing to fear: "The film is carefully calculated to impress the public, who will swallow it."

Mr Berdimuhamedov has led Turkmenistan since 2007, following the death of Saparmyrat Niyazov. Both presidents are known for their often bizarre personality cults, as well as for presiding over a poverty-stricken population despite the country's large gas reserves.

International watchdogs, as well as the exiled opposition, regularly highlight the extensive human-rights violations and restrictions on freedom of speech that mark Mr Berdimuhamedov's rule.

Image copyright Turkmen TV
Image caption State TV often shows the president flying helicopters

Reporting by Azim Rakhimov and Martin Morgan

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