Turkmen shops come in from the cold

Berkarar shopping mall, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan Image copyright Stanislav Krasilnikov\TASS via Getty Images
Image caption Elaborate shopping malls don't meet all consumer demands

Shopkeepers and hairdressers are reporting a sudden relaxation in a campaign to drive them out of the Turkmen capital Ashgabat.

These and other small businesses, including grocers, seamstresses and car repair shops, have come under periodic pressure over the last two years to relocate from residential areas to a new business park, they told the Chronicles of Turkmenistan opposition news site.

The most recent effort came last summer, when some corner shops were even ordered to brick up their windows.

'Going underground'

Businesses complained that they need to be near their potential customers rather than exiled to the Bedew Industrial Zone on the city outskirts, Radio Liberty's Turkmen Service reported at the time.

Many beauty salons "went underground" and started to operate out of rented flats - an option not open to the restaurants or garages that were ordered to close in September, Chronicles reports.

But now they are being allowed to re-open in their own buildings, basements and ground floors of blocks of flats, and are "very happy" with their changed circumstances, the Moscow news site says.

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It is not clear why the authorities have abruptly changed tack, but that is not surprising in itself - the authoritarian Turkmen government often acts in an arbitrary manner, and rarely explains its policy decisions to the closely-controlled media.

Some shopkeepers see a link with new rules approved by President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov last month to "boost small and medium-sized business and stimulate free enterprise and competition".

But others put it down to the aftermath of a corruption scandal involving businessman Chary Kulov, who was a major player on the Ashgabat property market before getting a long prison term in October.

His alleged patrons, including the long-serving and well-connected interior minister Isgender Mulikov, were also jailed, with the latter suffering the added indignity of being paraded on state television in prison garb.

Image copyright Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images
Image caption Local shops win a reprieve

Reporting by Martin Morgan

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