17 February 2007

Hope for Turkmenistan?

Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is not a name to roll off the tongue, but he is the new President of Turkmenistan. While there was widespread concern at the rigged elections in Turkmenistan, reported by No Right Turn, to replace the truly despotic Niyazov who died at the end of 2006, a there may be some hope with his successor.
The Times reports that one of his first moves is to allow unfettered access to the internet. This starts with web cafes and all schools are to have access as well. This is not the move of a wannabe dictator, and will be the beginnings of much more freedom for Turkmenistan. As a poor country (which actually has made a fortune from oil and gas), few will be able to afford it, but it is a very important first step. Berdymukhamedov apparently will also engage in “educational reform” and will allow more private enterprise. Education reform apparently includes allowing students to study abroad, and returning to 10 years of education (and I expect will quietly see study of Niyazov’s own book – the Rukhana fade away).
Funnily enough, Ashgabat is quite an important airport hub for people flying between Europe and India/Pakistan, because Turkmenistan Airlines is one of the cheapest ways to get there. It's not old planes either, but Boeing 757s from Heathrow and Frankfurt, though it gets a 2 star ranking from airline ranking company Skytrax and the passenger reports are mostly abysmal.

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