Bayramali: 'fight against corruption', closes central market down
by Vladimir Rozanskij

Drastic police measure that left citizens without the possibility of stocking up on fresh food. State self-service shops have reportedly complained of the sale of damaged products, but there are also strong doubts as to how the checks are carried out. In Transparency International's ranking, Turkmenistan is one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

Ašgabat (AsiaNews) - In the Turkmen city of Bayramali, in the Mari velayat (region), a large central market has been completely closed and put under police surveillance. The reasons for the closure have not been officially explained, but it is thought to be a radical anti-corruption action, and already for several days local citizens do not know where to go to buy fresh produce, given the general shortage of supply in shops and other occasional street outlets, in a situation of growing economic crisis throughout Turkmenistan.

The market vendors explain that 'inspectors from Ašgabat have arrived', who have reportedly closed down several other business premises in the region, and are not allowing any of them to go near their goods. It was simply announced that 'the market is not working this week', and no one is even allowed to sell under the counter in other forms. According to some shopkeepers, contacted by Radio Azattyk, there had been no warning of the police operation, and it is not known when they will be able to resume business.

According to anonymous rumours gathered by correspondents, the reasons for the inspection could be various, including several complaints from the most popular catering establishments, the state self-service restaurants where rotten food would be increasingly used. Another reason for widespread dissatisfaction would be the arbitrariness of the local police, who demand bribes and favours in increasingly explicit and brazen ways, to the point of provoking verification by central bodies.

According to a local businessman, 'in several bars and markets, customers have been served old, reheated food, and several people have been hospitalised for various ailments, some of them have signed complaints'. To traders and shoppers who refuse to pay bribes at the market for all sorts of demands, the local police officers impose fines or proceed with unjustified arrests and detentions, even if only for smoking cigarettes or hookahs near the products on sale, or for leaving rubbish on the ground.

The Bayramali police station, and also the municipal administration, refuse to comment on the incident. In fact, checks and investigations of this kind are quite frequent in all regions of Turkmenistan, always with the formal aim of 'ensuring respect for the law' and the 'prevention of violations of law', without such actions producing concrete and lasting results. Often even 'anti-corruption' investigators end up turning a blind eye, for an appropriate fee.

From elsewhere in Mari's velayat, there are reports of further audits by the Department of Fire Safety, to check all risky tools and premises in social and administrative facilities, including private shops. Officials are said to be given at least 400-500 manat (100-150 euro) to obtain permits and positive reports.

According to the organisation Transparency International, Turkmenistan is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, occupying 165th place out of 180 in this special negative ranking.