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On August 15, residents of Mary – a city in the south of Turkmenistan – were so incensed about a lottery draw that they smashed up the Belent shopping mall, turkmen.news’ sources report.
“Whoever made a purchase in the shopping mall had been given lottery tickets,” a source says. “The prizes were to be drawn that day, but for some reason the draw didn’t happen.”
In response, hundreds of people, most of whom had come to Mary from rural areas, began to trash the mall. The crowd smashed shop windows, broke equipment, and damaged a car that was to have been the main prize. One of the participants in the disorder made sure they won a “prize” by taking away a refrigerator.
According to the sources, the competition had been organized by representatives of a well-known foreign clothes brand together with a local cold drinks producer. Customers had to spend a specific amount on their products in order to receive lottery tickets.
But on the appointed day a far larger crowd came to Belent than the organizers expected – around 4-5,000 people. The whole mall was packed and people were standing out in the street. The businessmen realized they would be unable to draw the lottery in those conditions and announced the cancellation of the event. This infuriated the crowd. Eyewitnesses say the protesters included many women who, to judge from their accents, had come from neighboring Lebap region. They called the organizers crooks and demanded their money back.
At least 50 police officers arrived at the scene, according to turkmen.news’ sources. Witnesses say they began to beat the rioters with rubber truncheons. Police seized the phones of anyone who tried to film the events and smashed them on the ground.
“There’s a theory that someone organized the riot on purpose since Belent is a prime piece of real estate,” a source said. “Many businessmen have had their eye on it, even the president’s nephews. If there’s a change in ownership of the mall any time soon, it means it was all a set up.”
In 2018 an observer in Mary described the Belent mall as a place for the wealthy where the stratification of society could be clearly seen. The mall’s grocery stores sell all kinds of produce that shoppers in the state-owned stores have never clapped eyes on. But the prices there are beyond the reach of the majority of the population.
Lotteries are rare in Turkmenistan and receive an enthusiastic response from the public. People have high hopes of winning money or other prizes without any effort. Befree, which has features of a financial pyramid scheme, is popular in the country at the moment. In 2018, thousands of residents of Ashgabat snapped up tickets for a lottery supposedly organized by the Turkmen Horses state association. As in Belent, the prizes were to have been domestic appliances and a car. The draw was postponed, allegedly because of the extreme heat, and nobody answered the phone numbers printed on the tickets. People had spent their entire wages and got into debt, but ended up being cheated.
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