Turkmenistan eases Internet access

Turkmenistan Materials 6 June 2008 11:23 (UTC +04:00)

Turkmenistan has begun allowing private citizens to connect to the Internet, the latest sign that the reclusive Central Asian nation is opening up, reported AP.

The country's only Internet provider, Turkmentelekom, said Thursday that it has been connecting up to 20 homes daily since the start of the week, mainly in the capital Ashgabat. It said it has a waiting list of 2,000 people.

"As of this week we have begun connecting customers, regardless of their professional status," a Turkmentelekom statement said.

Since becoming president, Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov has reversed some of the most draconian restrictions imposed by his eccentric predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov who died in 2006.

Last year, Berdymukhamedov allowed the country's first Internet cafe. Until then, Internet use had been restricted solely to government employees, diplomatic posts and offices for major international companies.

But the average monthly salary in Turkmenistan is $200, so it was unclear how many people will really be able to afford home connections and whether the government will block certain Web sites.

Under Niyazov, most people in the energy-rich ex-Soviet republic were largely cut off from the world. State-run television broadcast persistent paeans to Niyazov and devoted extensive coverage to his travels and ceremonies. Newspapers were all government-controlled.

In recent years, however, satellite TV dishes have become widely popular, particularly in Ashgabat and other larger cities, giving more affluent Turkmen families access to Russian, Turkish and other foreign television.