Turkmenistan's Leader Promises Citizens Free Gas, Electricity and Water Through 2030

Turkmenistan's eccentric leader on Wednesday had the parliament promise free natural gas, power and water to every citizen in the energy-rich desert nation through 2030.

"This decision would help ensure a carefree life for our people," President Saparmurat Niyazov said, adding that the nation had enough hydrocarbons to last 250 years.

Niyazov, who prefers to be called Father of All Turkmen, first ordered in 1993 that all residents of the ex-Soviet nation receive gas, electricity, water and salt free of charge for a decade, and in 2003 had the move extended through 2020.

A program for the development of energy industries approved at the parliament session Wednesday envisages that natural gas output, which amounted to 63 billion cubic meters last year, will rise to 250 cubic meters by 2030, the Interfax news agency reported.

Niyazov, Turkmenistan's Soviet-era Communist Party boss, has ruled the Central Asian nation for 20 years and has developed an elaborate personality cult. Golden statues and busts of the president are scattered across the country, and his portrait is on every bank note and coin.

In recent years, he has tapped the country's vast energy wealth for outlandish projects — a theme park based on Turkmen folk art and fairy tales, a giant, man-made lake in the Kara Kum desert and a vast cypress forest to change the desert climate.