Prison term over President's pet hate

By Shaun Walker

For residents of Ashgabat, capital of one of the world's most bizarre dictatorships, taking the dog for a walk has become a dangerous pastime.

This month, a pet-lover was walking his dog through the streets of Turkmenistan's capital late one evening when he was suddenly surrounded by police, pushed to the ground and dragged off to the local police station.

According to police, the cortege of the country's leader, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, had been speeding along a nearby boulevard, which in Turkmenistan means that the streets are cleared of cars and people for several blocks around.

The unfortunate dog-walker had strayed into a restricted area, and the police soon told him that an order had come from the top - either they could shoot the dog, or the man would have to go to prison for two weeks.

Unable to pronounce the death sentence on his beloved pet, the man agreed to prison.

The story, which was recounted on an independent website run by Turkmen Emigres, is hard to verify, as there is no free media in the country. But the incident would fit with an apparent pathological hatred of household pets on the part of Berdymukhamedov, detailed in an American diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks last year.

The cable recounted an incident where a cat ran in front of the presidential motorcade. The President was so angry over the incident that a top military official was fired. The Turkmen press has also reported an extermination drive to remove stray dogs and cats from the capital on his orders.

Berdymukhamedov took over the presidency of Turkmenistan when his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, died in 2006. His image looks down from almost every building in the capital, and his top officials live in fear of demotion or jail.

- INDEPENDENT

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