11/15/2021, 10.37
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Overnight queues on bakeries as Ashgabat faces food crises

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Food rationed, families queuing for three loaves of bread. Smartphones seized by police; those who film queues risk arrest. Food prices skyrocket. Authorities deny there are problems and continue to celebrate President Berdymuhamedov.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Police in Ashgabat, capital of Turkmenistan, have tightened controls on people crowding in front of bakeries, which are open only at night in order to reduce crowds - but in vain. Smartphones are confiscated to prevent the spread of videos and photos that testify to what is happening in the city.

The long queues form shortly after midnight, and continue until the first light of dawn. Families try to rotate members queueing, even having old people and children taking turns. The policemen assigned to the security service even join queues, in uniform or without. As Radio Azatlyk reports, one of the latest regulations orders a distance from bakeries and counters where bread rations are distributed.

A standard ration consists of three loaves of bread delivered in a plastic bag; a maximum of 5-10 people are allowed to stay near the stores, while people in line wait their turn in more distant areas in total darkness, as night lighting is suspended, except for the dim lights of the stores. People enter in groups of five to buy their rations according to the capped price. Whoever tries to skip the queue is roughly dealt with by policemen.

Anyone found with a smartphone in their hands can be arrested and taken to the police station for investigation. Fear that someone could be filming the situation is so obsessive, that just putting your hand in your pocket is enough to become the object of law enforcement attention. People are afraid to answer calls, silencing the ring-tones.

In the few videos posted by Azatlyk and other independent media, one can see dozens and even hundreds of people, including children, waiting long before the opening of the stores, or wandering around with a few pieces of bread in their hands. Other food products, even though they are included in the list of those that are regulated, have almost completely disappeared, and in some state-owned stores nothing but bread is sold.

In private stores, on the contrary, products are offered in abundance, but with prices that have risen to astronomical levels. Even in these stores, however, many goods have almost disappeared, especially flour, which has caused the closure of dozens of bakeries.

Since May of this year, attempts to reduce and conceal the night (and day) queues have been intensified, after criticism from the deputy premier and son of the president, Serdar Berdymuhamedov, that these scenes bring his august father into disrepute.

The authorities officially deny the country's state of economic and food crisis, spreading announcements of Turkmenistan's glorious economic development and spending millions of dollars to construct monuments and sumptuous buildings. The latest tribute is the grandiose state grandstand in front of the central square, along with various horse and dog breeding facilities, touted by President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov as the main excellences of the Turkmen state.

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