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ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) — Turkmenistan marked the 30th anniversary of its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union with a military parade Monday that involved thousands of people and featured the country's leader mounting a horse to greet the participants.
The pomp-filled parade took place in Ashgabat, the capital of the gas-rich former Soviet republic in Central Asia. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov personally saluted the parade — first from an open-top car and then from a horse he rode across the square.
The event was organized with strict precautions. All foreign guests, including foreign diplomats stationed in Turkmenistan, had to undergo coronavirus testing to attend and watched the parade from socially distanced seats. Neither Berdymukhamedov nor those marching in the parade wore masks, however.
Turkmenistan has not reported any coronavirus cases, but has introduced a series of restrictive measures to prevent the infection and made vaccination mandatory for all starting from age 18.
Aside from troops and military equipment, the parade featured employees of state ministries and institutions demonstrating their achievements and Alabai shepherd dogs, which accompanied soldiers on military vehicles.
The nation of 6 million people prides itself in horses and dogs, honoring its centuries-old herding traditions.
Berdymukhamedov ordered a holiday praising the Alabai to be celebrated on the last Sunday of April when Turkmenistan also marks the day of the local horse breed, according to the newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan.
Last year, Berdymukhamedov inaugurated a 15-meter (nearly 50-foot) gilded statue honoring the dog in the Turkmen capital.
Berdymukhamedov has ruled the gas-rich desert country since 2006 through an all-encompassing personality cult that styles him as Turkmenistan’s “arkadaq,” or protector.