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Desert nation Turkmenistan to create ice hockey league


Ice hockey is hardly the most suitable sport for a desert nation where temperatures can soar as high as 50C.

But Turkmenistan's president has ordered state enterprises and departments to create a hockey league.

Turkmenistan has overcome the weather issue by using revenue generated from its natural gas exports to build costly indoor skating rinks.

Critics of the idea are unlikely to make their thoughts public in a country where government opponents face severe reprisals.

President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov has in recent months been busily preaching the need for his former Soviet Central Asian nation to become a sporting power and has personally led the way by showing off his active side.

At the weekend, he donned ice hockey garb and skated in front of thousands of people at a recently constructed indoor arena in the capital, Ashgabat. Afterward, teams played in the country's first ever ice-hockey tournament - one of several events organised for the "Week of Health and Happiness" recently devised by Mr Berdymukhamedov.

Earlier that same day, the president unexpectedly took part in a time-trial car race, and won.

These displays appear to be part of a state-engineered design to project the president - who won presidential elections in February with 97% of the vote - as a man of action.

The ceaseless idolisation of the leader bears strong hallmarks of the cult of personality built by Mr Berdymukhamedov's eccentric predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, who died unexpectedly in late 2006.

In previous outings, Mr Berdymukhamedov has been seen jogging, playing volleyball, riding horses, cycling, practising judo and taekwondo, and shooting at a firing range.

In the non-sporting field, state media has reported on Mr Berdymukhamedov, a 54-year old trained dentist, removing a tumour from a cancer patient and flying a plane.