* Turkmenistan pins hopes of prosperity on gas
* Strongman leader angry about slow development of fields
* Says development of giant Galkynys deposit a priority
By Marat Gurt
ASHGABAT, ASHGABAT, April 14 Turkmenistan's
gas-fuelled economy grew 10.4 percent year-on-year in
January-March, President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was quoted
as saying, but he also reprimanded a senior official for not
doing enough to develop the key energy sector.
First quarter growth was lower than the 14.4 percent year on
year rise in GDP in first quarter 2011. Turkmenistan, which has
the world's fourth largest natural gas reserves, had GDP growth
of 14.7 percent in 2011, up from 9.2 percent in 2010.
Berdymukhamedov, who has virtually unlimited powers, is the
main source of rarely published macroeconomic statistics in the
secretive Central Asian nation of 5.5 million.
He presided over a government meeting late on Friday, and
official mass media quoted excerpts from his speech on Saturday.
"The results of the first quarter of this year in general
inspire hope," Berdymukhamedov told his ministers. "The rate of
the national manat currency stays stable, and inflation is kept
within a targeted range," he added without elaborating.
Official data show that Turkmenistan's natural gas reserves
equal those of Saudi Arabia and are the world's fourth biggest.
The country has output capacity of 75 billion cubic metres
of natural gas a year, but industry analysts estimate actual
production at 40-42 bcm or slightly higher, mainly due to a fall
in exports to its traditional market, Russia.
Berdymukhamedov said natural gas output had risen 19.1
percent year-on-year in first quarter 2012 but gave no output
Turkmenistan, whose hopes of economic growth rely largely on
expanding gas exports, has in recent years started selling
natural gas to China and expanded exports to neighbouring Iran.
The planned Nabucco gas pipeline, which is backed by the
European Union and the United States and would run under the
Caspian Sea to oil-rich Azerbaijan and on to Europe, is a pet
project of Berdymukhamedov, who has taken steps to improve ties
with the West.
Berdymukhamedov also chastised Deputy Prime Minister
Baymurad Hojamuhamedov, who is responsible for the energy
sector, "strongly reprimanding him ... for the slow tempo of
developing oil and gas deposits", state media reported.
Auditor Gaffney, Cline & Associates ranked Turkmenistan's
South Iolotan gas field as the world's second largest after
South Pars in Iran, saying in October 2011 that it could contain
between 13.1 trillion and 21.2 trillion cubic metres.
Buoyed by the estimate, Berdymukhamedov issued a decree
ordering his people to call the South Iolotan field and
infrastructure "Galkynys" - the Turkmen word for "Renaissance".
"A special stress should be made now on works of the first
stage of developing the Galkynys natural gas reservoir,"
Berdymukhamedov was quoted as telling his cabinet.