Leader: Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov in his televised ride on empty roads.
Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has ordered everybody in the country to take part in mass cycling this month, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has reported.
In a promotion on State television early one morning last month, Mr Berdymukhammedov wore a matching ensemble — green helmet, black-and-green gloves, green eyewear, and long white pants, the signature colours of his personality cult.
He was shown getting out of a car in the chilly early hours of August 3 and hopping on a green mountain bike as dozens of government officials all dressed in matching blue tracksuits followed behind. The roads were closed to motor vehicles.
The month-long campaign is called “Security Of Traffic Movement On The Road And The Well-Being Of Our Life.” RFE/RL commented that it sounded more poetic in Turkmen. Elaborately poetic descriptions of official state holidays and state events were a staple of Turkmen bureaucracy.)
The President’s decree ordered mass cycling to take place on September 1 across Turkmenistan and continue for the rest of the month, the radio stations said.
The State TV presenter introduced the film of the President cycling by saying: “The cycling should be part of the regular activity of people. Sport schools in the capital and provinces should prepare a road map for improving cycling activities.”
State TV said Mr Berdymukhammedov had approved a four-year state program to develop the sport and ordered public officials and students to take part in rides.
“This campaign will help to boost health, ensure environmental security and promote cycling,” he is quoted as saying.
According to the state television presenter, the decree spells out a plan to increase the participation of Turkmen citizens in all sports with a special emphasis on cycling.
Mr Berdymukhammedov has made physical exercise a distinguishing feature of his rule since he took office in 2006. However, it has not always been successful – he had a spectacular fall from a horse during a race in April, RFE/RL said.
RFE/RL said it was not coincidental that a mass bike ride took place on the outskirts of Ashgabat the day after Mr Berdymukhammedov’s televised ride on August 3. As with government-sponsored events, most participants were government employees and students.
State television has previously showed the President riding horses and jet-skis as part of his attempt to appeal more accessible than former leader Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in 2006 and was considered a ruthless dictator.
However, human rights groups say Turkmenistan remains one of the world’s most repressive regimes.
Atamurat, a 52-year-old government worker, said he was happy that at least he did not have to buy a bicycle for the event, RFE?RL reported.
“Despite this being a holiday, workers were called in to participate in the event. Those who came were given bikes to participate,” Atamurat said. “Usually people who participate in state events have to purchase their own equipment, but I am glad that they didn’t ask us to buy the bikes.”
Another government employee who declined to give his name told RFE/RL that the bikes were imported and cost around $200 each – the average monthly salary in the Central Asian nation.
A correspondent for RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service said participants cycled until 5pm and that some fainted in the 39C temperature later in the day.