updated 10/25/2006 10:06:02 PM ET 2006-10-26T02:06:02

Turkmenistan's eccentric leader announced Wednesday that his energy-rich Central Asian nation would provide citizens with natural gas and power free of charge through 2030.

"This decision would help ensure a carefree life for our people," said President Saparmurat Niyazov. He said parliament had approved the action.

Turkmenistan is the second-biggest natural gas producer in the former Soviet Union after Russia. The country's proven commercial reserves amount to 2.8 trillion cubic meters.

The president, who prefers to be called Father of All Turkmen, first ordered in 1993 that all residents of the ex-Soviet republic receive gas, electricity and water free of charge for a decade. In 2003, the promise was extended through 2020.

A program for the development of energy industries approved at the parliament session Wednesday envisages that natural gas output, which amounted to 63 billion cubic meters last year, will rise to 250 cubic meters by 2030, the Interfax news agency reported.

Niyazov, Turkmenistan's Soviet-era Communist Party boss, has ruled for 20 years and has developed an elaborate personality cult. Golden statues and busts of the president are scattered across the country, and his portrait is on every bank note and coin.

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