MOSCOW, September 3 (RIA Novosti) – Having apparently recovered from an embarrassing fall off a horse, Turkmenistan’s strongman leader is reportedly back on a racetrack – but this time, in a sports car.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov drove an Alfa Romeo in a Sunday race in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, as part of his drive to popularize a healthy lifestyle in the ex-Soviet nation, the state-run Turkmenistan Segodnya news website reported.
Unsurprisingly, he won the race – which was 2.3 kilometers (1.4 miles) long – and was greeted with a standing ovation from thousands of spectators, the report said.
“The announcer’s voice proclaimed that the head of the Turkmen state took first place in the competition with the result of 1 minute 46.5 seconds literally drowned out by a squall of applause,” the report said, adding that the race was part of a broader sports event that involved a bicycle race also led by the president.
Berdymukhamedov, 56, came to power in 2007, succeeding the late Saparmurat “Turkmenbashi” Niyazov, who created an elaborate personality cult complete with statues of himself, some of them gold-plated, around Turkmenistan’s cities.
Berdymukhamedov, who has the honorary title of Arkadag, or “protector,” has accumulated state awards and ranks since coming to power, and his reign has been proclaimed “The Age of Might and Happiness.”
He is a known equine enthusiast, having penned two books on the Akhal-Teke horse breed, which is native to Turkmenistan. He was commemorated in March by an equestrian statue, on display in a museum in the country’s capital.
In late April, Berdymukhamedov narrowly escaped injuries after falling off a horse during a national horse-racing event, the BBC reported. Although he left six other riders behind him to win the race, his horse, named Berkarar (The Mighty), stumbled after the finish line, throwing Berdymukhamedov flying over its head and landing heavily on the ground.
Turkmenistan is one of the nine “worst of the worst” countries on human rights issues, according to US-based rights watchdog Freedom House. The arid Central Asian of 5 million is also the world’s fourth-largest producer of natural gas, according to BP’s “Statistical Review of World Energy 2013.”