ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan- Top officials in reclusive Turkmenistan have been rewarded for their work with extended state-funded holidays while the economy reels from depressed natural gas prices.
Authorities in energy-dependent Turkmenistan, including paternalistic President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, are facing an unexpected legitimacy test as falling oil prices and Russia's recession shake the economy.
Last year Turkmenistan's currency, the manat, lost about a fifth of its value against the dollar and economic jitters have pushed Berdymukhamedov to sack several ministers and oversee the introduction of foreign exchange controls.
But Berdymukhamedov - who said he was pleased overall with the government's performance so far this year despite some shortcomings - ordered ministers and the heads of state agencies to take a 26-day vacation in Turkmenistan's tourist zones.
The break - which began Monday, according to state media - is nearly twice as long as the usual state-funded holiday for bureaucrats.
"You can take your holidays according to your desires at any of our health resorts, spas or the tourist zone Avaza," Berdymukhamedov told officials, referring to a resort town on the Caspian Sea.
The extended vacation may be designed to ease fears about the undiversified economy, which observers fear is running on empty after the government imposed draconian controls on foreign currency exchanges and transfer services like Western Union.
Berdymukhamedov, 59, became Turkmenistan's leader after autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov died in 2006. He has since adopted some elements of his predecessor's all-pervading personality cult.
Both the current president and former leader have had golden statues of themselves erected in the capital Ashgabat.
The country is likely to adopt constitutional changes later this year that will lift the upper age-limit for serving presidents, possibly allowing Berdymukhamedov to rule for life.