Turkmen leader sacks official over bad Internet

ASHGABAT (Reuters) - Turkmenistan’s president sacked a senior communications official on Tuesday for failing to make the Internet more accessible in the long-isolated desert nation.

According to a decree published in official media, Deputy Communications Minister Annaly Berdinobatov was fired for “shortcomings” and “delays in implementing work aimed at distributing the system of the Internet in Turkmenistan”.

Web use remains severely restricted in a country whose government tolerates little political dissent. Reporters Without Borders, a media watchdog, lists Turkmenistan as one of the world’s 15 most Internet-unfriendly nations.

Since he swept to power in late 2006, President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has promised to modernise the economy, bring in more foreign investors and make the Internet part of people’s daily life in his Caspian Sea nation.

The West has encouraged his policies, seeking to forge closer ties with Central Asia’s biggest natural gas exporter.

Turkmenistan, a former Soviet nation of five million, had little contact with the outside world under Berdymukhamedov’s predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in late 2006 after 21 years of increasingly hard-line rule.

But, like in Niyazov’s days, users still cannot open a number of opposition and news Web sites, and setting up home Internet accounts is beset with hurdles.

Only a few hundred people use the Internet regularly, according to local estimates.