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Desert Turkmenistan plants 470,000 trees

By AFP - Nov 06,2023 - Last updated at Nov 06,2023

Turkmen citizens take part in a mass tree-planting ceremony marking Nowruz, or the new year, outside Ashgabat on March 21, 2018 (AFP photo)

ASHGABAT, TURKMENISTAN — Water-scarce Turkmenistan said Monday it had planted almost half-a-million trees in a nationwide “green campaign” that is being used to advance the ruling family’s personality cult.

Since coming to power last year, Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhamedov has advanced an intense campaign to promote himself and honour his father — ex-president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov — with portraits, billboards, statues and monuments of the leaders having been erected across the country.

Neutral Turkmenistan, the government’s official newspaper, reported Monday details of a nationwide “green campaign”, in which Turkmen citizens planted more than 472,000 trees — including conifers, hardwoods and fruit trees — in a single day.

It published a photo of Serdar Berdymukhamedov shovelling earth in a green-and-white sports outfit.

“On this autumn day, the whole country went on a greening campaign to increase the ‘green wealth’ of the country,” the paper said.

Turkmenistan is one of the most closed societies in the world, where dissent is outlawed and the Berdymukhamedovs have exercised tight control over all spheres of public life for almost two decades.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation says water stress in Turkmenistan is “extremely high”.

Three-quarters of the country are covered by the black sands of the Karakum Desert and annual precipitation is below 100mm in places.

A vast 1,400 kilometre canal — one of the world’s largest irrigation projects — carries water across the desert to the capital Ashgabat and supplies the country’s important cotton fields.

Officials say Turkmenistan has planted around 145 million trees in the past few years — but information coming out of the reclusive state is impossible to verify.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkmenistan 176th out of 180 for freedom of the press, while rights group Freedom House has called the country a “repressive authoritarian state, where political rights and civil liberties are almost completely denied”. 

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