Leader demands ice hockey for desert state Turkmenistan

President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in Ashgabat, 7 April 2012 The president has been keen to show his sporting prowess

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The president of Turkmenistan, which has a hot desert climate, has ordered his government ministries to create their own ice hockey teams.

President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has urged his nation to become a sporting power and regularly shows off his own sporting activities.

He recently proclaimed a "Week of Health and Happiness".

The president has ruled the gas-rich nation since 2007 and enjoys absolute power, with orders rarely challenged.

Concrete staircase

Summer temperatures in the capital, Ashgabat, hover around 45C but there are two large winter sports stadiums.

Speaking at the finals of Turkmenistan's first youth ice hockey tournament on Wednesday, the president ordered state enterprises and government departments to create ice hockey teams.

The BBC's Rayhan Demytrie says the interior ministry became the first government body to follow the edict. The police are said to be following suit.

She says Mr Berdymukhamedov is proud of his own athleticism, with state media often showing him riding horses, cycling, practising martial arts or racing cars.

Earlier this month, state workers performed mass physical exercise and were encouraged to climb an 8km (five mile) concrete staircase built into a hillside outside Ashgabat.

Mr Berdymukhamedov's predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in late 2006, built a cult of personality in the country and was responsible for a number of maverick policies, including banning opera and renaming the months.

Mr Berdymukhamedov, who won presidential elections in February with 97% of the vote, has tried to ease the nation's isolation, courting international investment.

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