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Turkmenistan Leader Pens Song To Celebrate Birth Of A Horse
Anne Sophie Goninet

What's the deal with strongmen and their horses? Whether its Kim Jong-un galloping through the snow or shirtless Vladimir Putin on horseback mountain or Nicolas Maduro striking an el vaquero pose on the ranch, power-hungry world leaders tend to have an equestrian thing going on.

Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, however, is taking it to another level. The central Asian strongman has already written several books on the Turkmen Akhal-Teke horses, a breed also known as "Golden Horses' because of their shiny coat, and never misses celebrating the National Horse Day with great ceremony, even last year in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

And now, after Ak Khan, a prized Akhal-Teke racehorse and the leader's favorite, gave birth to a foal, the Turkmen strongman was moved to sing from the heart. For the grand occasion, Berdymukhamedov decided to celebrate by writing a song with his grandson Kerimguly, who composed the music, news website Turkmen Portalreports. The two of them had previously recorded another song dedicated to Ak Khan. But the production value of the new tune is on another level.

This new song, "My White City Ashgabat," which refers to the name of the new horse and the name of the country's capital city, premiered at the State Cultural Centre last week and was performed by singers and dancers, with footage of the president taking care of the foal in the background. According to the state channel, the leader felt inspired by the fact that the birth coincided with the 30-year anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence, and was 140 years since the founding of Ashgabat.

As only the country's second president since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Berdymukhamedov has ruled Turkmenistan since 2006 with an iron (and plundering) hand, spending the riches of the country's natural gas industry to build golden statues of himself, organize flamboyant displays and invest in outlandish building projects such as the remodeling of Ashgabat's city center to make it the world's whitest city. (He even banned the use of black cars.)

Turkmenistan, with a population of around six million, is also one the world's most secretive and restrictive countries in the world, with the press under strict state control and the absence of any kind of political opposition. In the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, Turkmenistan ranked 179 out of 180. Where's the song about that?

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Along The "New Border" Of Ukraine, Annexation Has Just Doubled The Danger

Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of Ukrainian territories in a ceremony in the Kremlin. In a village just a few kilometers away from what is now the Ukraine-Russia "border" in Putin's eyes, life continues amid constant shelling and the fear of what comes next.

Ukrainian soldiers are stationed in the village of Inhulka, near Kherson.

Stefan Schocher

INHULKA — The trail leads over a gravel road, a rickety pontoon bridge past a checkpoint. Here in the remote village of Inhulka near Kherson in southern Ukraine, soldiers sit in front of the village shop. Inside, two women run back and forth behind the counter, making coffee, selling sausages, weighing tomatoes. "Natalochka, where are the cookies," calls a dark-haired lady across the room.

But Natalochka, her colleague, is about to lose her nerve. "What kind of life is that?" she says, finally reaching up to grab the cookies from the top of a shelf. What kind of life can it be, she asks, when something is constantly exploding next to you and you don't know if you'll wake up in the morning.

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Inhulka is the center of a rural community. 1,587 inhabitants, as the village chief says, one school, one kindergarten, one doctor, two stores. Since March, nothing here is as it used to be. That was when the Russian army came to the village.

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