* Gas-fuelled GDP growth in line with IMF estimates
* But president says vital gas industry still underperforms
By Marat Gurt
ASHGABAT, Jan 11 Turkmen President Kurbanguly
Berdymukhamedov has fired the head of state gas company
Turkmengaz for doing too little to diversify the vital gas
industry that underpins the Central Asian state's economy.
Turkmenistan, a mainly Muslim nation of 5.5 million with the
world's fourth-largest natural gas reserves, has been ramping up
gas exports to China via a pipeline built in 2009, while exports
to Russia have dwindled in the last few years.
Berdymukhamedov, who enjoys a personality cult and is titled
Arkadag (The Patron), was shown on Saturday on state television
saying that the gas sector was underperforming despite billions
of dollars invested there in recent years.
"For example, we could have raised production and exports of
liquefied gas and other products which are in great demand on
world markets," he told a government meeting.
He then sacked Turkmengaz head Kakageldy Abdullayev, who had
held the job for just one year. His predecessor was also fired
in January 2013 after the autocratic ruler cited faults in his
Little-known Charymuhammed Hommadov, described by state
media as "a person with great experience of work in the gas
sector", was appointed as the new head of Turkmengaz.
While criticizing the mainstay state company, however,
Berdymukhamedov said that fast economic growth continued in
2013. Gross domestic product expanded by 10.2 percent last year,
he said. GDP rose by 11.1 percent in 2012.
Turkmenistan's growth is largely in line with projections
made by the International Monetary Fund, which in November
forecast Turkmen GDP to grow by 10.1 percent in 2013 and by 10.7
percent in 2014, owing mainly to rising gas exports to China.
Berdymukhamedov and Chinese President Xi Jinping inaugurated
Galkynysh, the world's second-largest natural gas field, in
Turkmenistan has won the support of the United States and
the European Union for alternative pipeline routes to sell its
gas to Europe and to Pakistan and India. But to date, these
projects exist only on paper.
Turkmenistan had planned to produce 76.9 billion cubic
metres (bcm) of natural gas last year and export 43 bcm. Output
data for 2013 are not yet available. The desert nation aims to
more than triple gas output in the next two decades.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)