Turkmen Leader Appoints Son To Head Ministry, Sparking Succession Speculation

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has appointed his son Serdar to head the Ministry of Industry and Construction, state media in the gas-rich Central Asian nation reported on February 8.

His promotion comes less than a year after Serdar Berdymukhammedov, 38, assumed the post of a provincial governor.

His rapid rise has sparked speculation that the 62-year-old autocratic president is preparing him as a successor.

In his new job, Serdar Berdymukhammedov is likely to oversee the ambitious project of building a new capital from scratch for the central Ahal region, which he used to head.

Prior to becoming Ahal's governor, Serdar Berdymukhammedov served as Ahal's deputy governor and the deputy foreign minister.

He also currently holds a seat in parliament.

President Berdymukhammedov this week signed a decree allocating nearly $1.5 billion for imports of construction materials, equipment, and other items needed for the new city.

The Berdymukhammedov family comes from the Ahal region.

The move comes amid the government's policy of limiting imports against a backdrop of foreign currency shortages and depressed energy prices.

Berdymukhammedov, 62, has run the former Soviet republic since 2006, tolerating no dissent and becoming the center of an elaborate personality cult. Turkmen often refer to him as Arkadag (The Protector).

Government critics and human rights groups say Berdymukhammedov has suppressed dissent and made few changes in the secretive country since he came to power after the death of autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov.

Like his late predecessor, Berdymukhammedov has relied on subsidized prices for basic goods and utilities to help maintain his grip on power.

According to Human Rights Watch, Berdymukhammedov, "his relatives, and their associates control all aspects of public life, and the authorities encroach on private life."

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