Turkmenistan lifts exchange ban

Turkmenistan has lifted a 10-year ban on foreign currency trading in a move to open the energy-rich Central Asian country to the world.

From 1 January citizens of the country and foreigners have been able to change money at a regulated commercial rate.

Exchange offices were closed in 1998 by Saparmurat Niyazov, the long-standing president, who died in 2006.

Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, his successor, has taken steps to attract overseas investments.

In the latest move, Mr Berdymukhamedov set the official exchange rate at 6,250 manat per dollar and commercial rate at no more than 20,000 manat.

Until recently Turkmenistan's citizens had to change money on the black market. The current black market rate is around 20,000 manat per dollar.

"This decision [to lift the ban] is aimed at... creating favourable conditions for a gradual shift to a single exchange rate for the manat, as well as increasing foreign economic activity and attracting foreign investment," Mr Berdymukhamedov said in televised comments.

Mr Niyazov had ruled Turkmenistan for more than 20 years.

He introduced some eccentric laws, including bans on opera and ballet, beards, travelling inside the country, internet access and teaching foreign languages at schools.

Mr Niyazov also reduced the number of years children went to school, which meant their qualifications were not enough to allow them to enter foreign universities.

Mr Berdymukhamedov has dropped some of the laws, and the government is talking about opening up the country's enormous natural gas reserves to foreign investors.

In July, the president announced plans to spend $1bn and seek additional foreign investment to create a major tourist resort on the Caspian Sea. ( BBC )

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