Turkmenistan zoo story

Like many of you, I fret about Turkmenistan. Not only is the mountainous Central Asian republic isolated from the rest of the world, it's ruled by a dictatorial goofball who grows increasingly eccentric with each year.

In 2002, Turkmenistan's president-for-life, Saparmurat Niyazov, renamed the months and the days of the week. Fair enough. This year he closed the libraries because he claimed his people weren't reading; put a stop to the import of foreign literature; and banned pre-recorded music. Then Turkmenbashi, as he likes to be called ("father of all Turkmen"), ordered his government ministers to learn how to speak English or get canned. "I don't care whether you pay for a teacher or you learn it on your own, but you have to talk English in six months. Anyone not fulfilling my decree will be sacked," declared the Anglophiliac tyrant. The jittery ministers won't be able to calm their nerves with a cigarette, since, after undergoing major heart surgery in 1997, Turkmenbashi quit smoking and demanded his ministers do the same.

Now the president has ordered the construction of an elaborate $21 million zoo that will house, among other animals, an abundance of penguins. It must be said that Turkmenbashi's heart is in the right place, or at least within spitting distance of the right place. He says that global warming is starving the penguins and he aims to save them.

Temperatures get blisteringly hot in this desert nation, but the despot is undeterred. Global warming didn't begin yesterday, Niyazov points out; if they want to be rescued, the penguins will just have to get used to the climate.


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