Turkmenistan leader wins his country's first car race

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov has been in power since 2006

The president of Turkmenistan has won his country's maiden car race after an impromptu decision to enter.

Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov drove to the track in the capital Ashgabat in a green Bugatti sports car to watch.

Suddenly asking to take part, he changed to a Turkish-made Volkicar and won the time trial challenge.

Correspondents say the apparently choreographed display seemed designed to enhance the president's image as a man of action.

The winning car will be given to the desert country's national sports museum.

Mr Berdymukhamedov, a former health minister, came to power following the death of his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, at the age of 66, in 2006.

Sporting ambition

He was first elected president in 2007 with 89% of the vote and was returned to power in elections in February with 97% of the vote.

His choice to travel to Saturday's race in a Bugatti was in stark contrast with his preferred mode of transport during the elections, when he drove to a polling station with his family in a cramped Soviet-era Lada - a car much derided in the West for its unreliability.

Mr Berdymukhamedov, a fitness fanatic, wants to turn Turkmenistan, which gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, into a sporting power.

To date, the country of 5.5 million people has yet to win a single medal in the Olympic Games.

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