If a president falls off a horse and no one sees it, did he actually fall? Turkmenistan's president fell onto a dirt track Sunday when his horse stumbled during a race. This video obtained by AP captured the plunge which state-run media censored. (May 1)
Seeing the president slam face-first into the ground after falling from a speeding horse would be a shock to any nation. In authoritarian Turkmenistan, many residents didn't even get the chance.
President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov apparently wasn't seriously injured Sunday when his horse stumbled and he pitched into the dirt track at the hippodrome on the outskirts of the capital, Ashgabat.
But the fall was certainly a wound to the pride of the 55-year-old Central Asian leader, whose all-powerful personality cult portrays him as effortlessly competent.
Thousands of people were in the stands for the race that celebrated Turkmenistan's renowned desert racehorse breed, the Akhal-Teke. But state television's video of the race cut off just before the fall and the extensive written reports on the event didn't mention the plunge.
All domestic broadcasting in Turkmenistan is state-run; newspapers are either state-run or under heavy government supervision.
Media criticism of the president is non-existent and elaborate praise of him is ubiquitous in this nation of 5 million, wedged between the Caspian Sea and Iran, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.
Turkmenistan's security agencies reportedly went into high gear to try to block video or images of the president's fall from slipping out to the rest of the world.
The opposition-in-exile group Gundogar cited witnesses as saying police were carefully checking the computers, tablets, mobile phones and cameras of departing passengers at Ashgabat's airport.
The horse celebration had attracted an array of foreign horse enthusiasts.
Video obtained by The Associated Press shows a rider falling when his horse stumbles just after crossing the finish line in first place. State media reported that Berdymukhamedov won the race.