Turkmenistan ends free utilities after a quarter century

Turkmenistan's president has ordered a complete end to free natural gas, electricity and water, which residents of the Central Asian nation have enjoyed for a quarter century.

Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said Wednesday the move taking effect next year would help Turkmenistan more rationally use natural resources and develop a free market economy.

In recent years, Turkmenistan has reduced the amounts of free gas, electricity and water for consumers and required payments for extras. The gas-rich ex-Soviet nation has faced economic troubles as energy prices fell.

Berdymukhamedov has ruled Turkmenistan since 2006, when he assumed power after the death of his eccentric autocratic predecessor. He has established an elaborate personality cult of his own, and the constitution was amended to eliminate the age limit, effectively allowing Berdymukhamedov to be president for life.