Turkmenistan To Abolish Free Utilities For All But The Neediest

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has ordered the government to outline ways to abolish utilities benefits that have provided households with free electricity, gas, and water for a quarter-century.

Berdymukhammedov said on June 6 that the benefits system established by his predecessor in 1993 was "ineffective," according to state-run media reports in the tightly controlled Central Asian country.

Berdymukhammedov ordered the cabinet to "prepare proposals on eliminating the system of benefits in order to leave such benefits only for those who really need social assistance."

The natural-gas-rich country's autocratic first post-Soviet leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, introduced the benefits system two years after the Soviet collapse.

Berdymukhammedov also urged the government to start reforms in the banking and taxation systems.

The orders come amid growing signs of economic troubles in the isolated country of 5.3 million.

Turkmenistan has some of the largest natural-gas deposits in the world, and the country is ruled by an authoritarian government that tolerates no dissent.

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