Turkmenistan bans cars for a day to promote bikes, health

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan — The Central Asian country of Turkmenistan on Saturday banned most residents in its major cities from using their cars for a day in a bid to promote cycling and a healthy lifestyle.

Residents of the capital, Ashgabat, and regional cities were told not to use their vehicles between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday without express permission as the government staged mass cycle rides that were to include top officials.

The mayor's office in Ashgabat called on residents to park their cars, saying "on all roads, only bicycles will be operating." It wasn't immediately clear what sanctions would be levied on those who did not abide by the request.

Many residents commuted to work on foot Saturday as temperatures reached 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.6 Celsius) in Ashgabat. The roads were completely deserted, barring rare ambulances and state-owned taxi cabs.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who was re-elected in February with over 97 percent of the vote, hailed "the importance and inspiring role of (the mass cycling event) in the life of the country" during a cabinet meeting, the state news agency reported.

Berdymukhamedov is frequently seen taking part in sports and fitness events, particularly horse-riding.

The cycling event coincided with 50 days until Turkmenistan hosts the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, an event which has previously been relatively low-key.

The ex-Soviet country, which has been largely closed to outsiders, sees the games as a key prestige event to kick-start its tourism industry.

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