Tajiks splash out $210 million on independence pomp

Reuters, Friday 9 Sep 2011

Impoverished Tajikistan is spending more than a tenth of its annual budget on new facilities in time for the 20th anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union

Well-guarded independence day celebrations in Dushanbe in 2010 (Photo: Reuters)

The impoverished Central Asian nation of Tajikistan on Friday celebrated its second decade of independence after the fall of Soviet Union in a costly show of pomp that has drawn criticism over the barely affordable expense.

More than 10,000 soldiers paraded Friday through a central square in the capital, Dushanbe, ahead of a festive performance by 20,000 students.

The highlight of the day was the unfurling of a national flag stretching 2,011 meters (1.3 miles) and weighing 860 kilograms (nearly 1,900 pounds). That comes only weeks after the unveiling of the world's tallest unsupported flagpole, which soars 165 meters (541 feet).

Manufacturers of the flagpole said it cost $3.5 million to create.

That is only the tip of the iceberg in the bonanza of construction that has changed the face of the authoritarian nation's capital over recent months.

Finance Minister Safarali Nadzhmiddinov said more than $210 million have been spent on erecting a host of new buildings and facilities in time for the anniversary. That is equivalent to more than one-tenth of the country's annual budget.

Earlier this month, President Emomali Rakhmon inaugurated the 20-story Dushanbe Plaza business center, which has become the city's tallest building and cost $33 million in government funds to complete.

Creating a 15-hectare (37-acre) city park set the authorities back another $16.8 million.

Other facilities completed ahead of the anniversary include a five-star hotel, an energy-saving light bulb factory and an open-air theater.

The World Bank estimates that around half of Tajikistan's 7.5 million population lives below the poverty line and that monthly average salaries stand at less than $100. That hardship forces around half the male working-age population to travel abroad for employment.

Government opponents face constant harassment from the authorities, so criticism of longtime President Emomali Rakhmon's leadership is relatively muted.

Even so, political analyst Parviz Mullodzhanov said the government seems to be shying away from specifying exactly how much money has been spent on Friday's festivities for fear of deepening discontent.

"They do not want to excessively annoy the people, most of whom live in extreme poverty," he said.

The scale of independence festivities also belies the degree upon which Tajikistan's government relies on international assistance for its economic survival.

The International Monetary Fund in May approved a new credit to the cash-strapped country for a new loan worth almost $21 million to help it overcome difficulties created by global financial crisis. That would take the fund's loans to Tajikistan under an existing credit arrangement to $125 million.

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