Turkmenistan claims record for massive cycle lesson

A mass cycling event was held in Ashgabat to mark World Bicycle Day. (AFP pic)

ASHGABAT: The tightly-controlled Central Asian country of Turkmenistan claimed on Monday to have broken a world record after holding a massive event aimed at educating the population about the benefits of cycling.

Turkmen state media reported on Monday that the Guinness Book of Records had acknowledged the country for holding “the largest cycling awareness lesson” which involved 3,246 people on Friday.

The lesson focussed on road safety and featured a “cycling master class,” said Neutral Turkmenistan, a government mouthpiece.

On Sunday, strongman leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, 60, participated in another mass-cycling event that saw parts of the capital Ashgabat shut down.

Berdymukhamedov rode 8.5 kilometres as part of the event, the newspaper said.

Both the “cycling awareness lesson” and the mass cycle ride were put on to mark the first official World Bicycle Day on June 3.

Turkmenistan led an initiative to create the new day at the United Nations General Assembly. It was approved in April with support from 193 member states.

Berdymukhamedov, a former dentist who is celebrated as repressive Turkmenistan’s “Protector” in the fawning state media, has made healthy living part of the country’s ideology in recent years, leaving government officials with no option but to follow suit.

Other events held in support of the head of state’s health kick have included mandatory public stretching sessions for civil servants.

Smoking is effectively banned in the country, with tobacco products no longer sold in most shops.

Turkmenistan has broken plenty of various records in recent times, many of which have fed into state propaganda.

In 2015, a choir of more than 4,000 people broke the world record for “singing in the round” previously held by Google employees. The choir sang “Forward Only Forward, My Dear Country Turkmenistan”, a hymn whose lyrics were written by Berdymukhamedov.

The strongman has been in power since 2007, when he won his first election following the death of eccentric predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov.

Both men are honoured by golden statues in the white marble-clad Ashgabat.