Paths Not Traveled: Turkmen Students Forced To Clean All Roads For President’s Visit

ASHGABAT -- Schools directors in Ashgabat received an early morning call from education officials to gather hundreds of students on a Saturday to make the Turkmen capital's roads pristine in time for President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's weekend voyage.

The February 2 cleaning campaign was aimed at sweeping streets and sidewalks as well as cleaning the shrubbery along the so-called protocol roads, which the totalitarian president's convoy uses.

There wasn't any prior notice about it, an aggravated school director told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service on February 6. Even the day before, on Friday, the directors didn't know that there was going to be a [cleaning campaign].

The director spoke on condition of anonymity fearing a reprisal in the tightly-controlled country where the government doesn't tolerate free speech or criticism of the authorities.

Berdymukhammedov -- who has been in power since 2007 -- was due to travel to the Ashgabat suburbs on that crisp weekend, but school officials weren't told exactly which route he would take, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Ashgabat, citing several miffed school directors.

But the authorities couldn't take any chances and ordered that all of the major routes out of the city be made sparkling.

Hundreds of students and teachers from some 50 schools took part in the campaign.

They cleaned alongside the protocol roads as well as next to the Archabil, Chandybil, and Kopetdag highways in southern Ashgabat, an RFE/RL correspondent reported.

Some students could be seen using sticks to thrash the trees so that old leaves would fall ahead of the others who were sweeping the area.

The following day, Turkmen state media reported that Berdymukhammedov spent the morning cycling in the picturesque Kopetdag foothills that opens up to a magnificent panoramic view of Ashgabat.

Incredible fresh air of the last month of the winter and the delightful landscape...never fail to impress, the government website added.

Berdymukhammedov also visited the Akhal Teke Equestrian Complex, the website reported, and posted a photo depicting the president with a white horse.

But there was no mention of the hurried, unpaid cleaning campaign carried out by hundreds of students at the last-minute ahead of the president's excursion.

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