09/01/2021, 09.25
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Covid-19: the Turkmen president's purges against those spreading alarm

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Berdymukhamedov fires government members and local officials. They are accused of taking pandemic containment measures such as wearing masks and closing public places. Bribes to get treatment at overcrowded hospitals. The drama of students and cotton pickers.



Moscow (AsiaNews) - Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in recent days has fired some senior officials who had dared to spread alarms about the spread of Covid-19.  The measure also affected several health representatives in the velayat (province) of Lebapa.

The decision of Ashgabat's strongman appeared to be an indirect admission of the seriousness of the national health situation. Despite Berdymukhamedov's official denial of infection and mortality numbers, the country is grappling with a heavy new wave of Covid-19.

Without providing any detailed explanation, the Turkmen president removed Deputy Minister of Health and Medical Industry Arslangylyč Gylydžov (who also served as head of the State Health-Epidemiological Service), Deputy Premier Mamedmurad Geldinyjazov, Minister of Education Orazgeldy Gurbanov, and Chairman of the State Migration Service Bekmyrat Obezov. Berdymukhamedov imputes to them "serious inadequacies in their work." In various locations in Turkmenistan, several people have also been replaced in infectious disease centers.

The government sanctioned the presidential decision on August 25, making it known in the following days. From the state media, the authorities have not released any information on the official data of the pandemic; some independent publications, however, speak of a significant spike in infections, especially of the Delta variant, with a large increase in hospitalizations and deaths.

The pandemic has virulently spread in the velayat of Lebapa, where the government has fired local officials en masse. As Radio Azatlyk tells us, their guilt actually consists in having imposed strict sanitary measures in the region, such as the observance of the mask requirement, the closure of schools and public places, restaurants and leisure and vacation facilities, and even gas stations and car washes. The provincial administration has also introduced restrictions on public transport, requiring taxi drivers to install plastic and polyethylene dividers between drivers and passengers.

At the borders of the territory of Lebapa, on the bridge that joins Farap to Turkmenabat, the policemen stop all people without a certificate of negativity and do not even allow themselves to be bribed, which is really unusual for Turkmenistan.

Restrictions and the use of masks in public places are now adopted throughout the country, and even in the fields where agricultural activities are in full swing, especially for the extraordinary cotton harvest imposed by the president. The air temperature continues to be above 40 degrees, and many people lose consciousness due to the long stay in the cotton fields with their faces covered by masks.

Turkmen hospitals are overcrowded, and treatment is often offered for heavy bribes, due in part to delays in the distribution of government subsidies. Many are forced to sell all personal property in order to be able to somehow assist their sick relatives. All of these people are left without means of support in a phase aggravated by the country's never-ending economic crisis.

Due to the blockade of internal air and rail transport, university students cannot travel from the province to the cities where they study, especially in the capital. Many boys and girls have not even been able to take the entrance exams, which closed in the first half of August: the authorities have blocked special trains from the region of Mary to Lebapa and Ashgabat.

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