This week, Turkmenistan hosted a high profile OSCE energy conference entitled “Energy Security and Sustainable Development in the OSCE Region,” which brought together representatives of international organizations, oil and gas companies, scientists, and experts, including the OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier; the UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), Sven Alkalaj; the OSCE Chairman and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Leonid Kozhara; and the Turkish Minister of Development, Cevdet Yilmaz. "An effective form of cooperation with the EU has been created," President Berdymukhamedov said in his opening speech on energy cooperation. "At this stage, substantive work is being conducted to establish a legal framework for the implementation of a project for natural gas supplies from Turkmenistan to Europe in the future.” Turkmenistan’s leadership has made many overtures to Europe promising to deliver its gas, but without any firm commitment, while supplying China, Russia, and Iran. Nevertheless, OSCE’s Zannier touted Turkmenistan’s initiatives in the area of energy security and stressed that the OSCE regards Turkmenistan as one of its key partners in the region. Turkmenistan’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry organized an International Investment Forum, bringing over 200 delegates representing public and private organizations from over 20 countries, international financial institutions, and over 30 international companies to Ashgabat. Whereas Turkmenistan frequently makes these gestures to draw more foreign investment, it’s a tough sell. The rigid state control of the economy, the slow pace of economic reform, and a restrictive visa regime have made the country’s investment climate less welcoming. And whereas many have come courting Turkmenistan to invest in its energy, agricultural, and construction sectors, the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal ranked Turkmenistan 169 out of 177 countries, noting substantial declines in property rights and fiscal freedom in the country. The government controls most of the economy and restricts foreign participation to a few sectors. Personal relations with government officials are often required to cut through red tape, according to the report. Participants at the Investment Forum raised these issues, expressing interest in the legal protection of foreign investors and enterprises with foreign investments in Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan ranks 83rd out of 162 countries in the first Global Slavery Index 2013 published by the Australian human rights organization Walk Free Foundation and based on three factors: the estimated prevalence of modern slavery, child marriage, and cross-border human trafficking. The Walk Free Foundation reported that in Turkmenistan, with a population of 5.2 million people, roughly 15,000 may be considered to be enslaved. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who is cultivating a profile of himself as a renaissance man, has published yet another book, following his earlier tomes on topics as diverse as traditional medicinal herbs and Turkmenistan's much-admired Akhal-Teke horse breed. His latest offering, “The Bird of Happiness,” is a novel glorifying his father, and reportedly, he has been writing this book since childhood. In the preface to the novel, Berdymukhamedov writes: "The events described in the novel, which you hold in your hands, the exemplary work of the characters and their beautiful moral ethos form a symphony that from childhood excited my heart as a great model of love for the Motherland, people, and parents, of dedication and high spirituality."
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