In Depth

Jennifer Lopez: birthday blunder in Turkmenistan

American singer apologises for lucrative gig for president accused of 'human rights abuses'

JENNIFER LOPEZ has had a short, sharp lesson in the politics of human rights after she visited Turkmenistan at the weekend to brighten up the birthday celebrations of Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.

The president of the former Soviet republic turned 56 and what better way to celebrate than by flying in 'JLO', one of the world's most alluring pop stars. The Guardian reports that the singer performed for Berdymukhamedov at the southern resort of Avaza on Saturday night, despite his reputation for "committing widespread human rights abuses".

Apparently Lopez skipped on stage wearing a "skimpy white dress" and with a cry of "Turkmenistan!" Not that many of its citizens were present at the concert, just Berdymukhamedov and a few of his best buddies. Later she changed into a traditional Turkmen outfit to sing 'Happy Birthday, Mr President' before gushing: "It was our pleasure, and we wish you the very happiest birthday."

Human Rights Watch has described Turkmenistan as "one of the world's most repressive countries" and The Guardian says Berdymukhamedov "presides over a personality cult in the oil and gas-rich central Asian nation and brooks no dissent". The majority of the country's five million inhabitants live in poverty and see nothing of the money made from their country's natural resources

Lopez is believed to be the first global superstar to perform in Turkmenistan and was invited as a guest of the China National Petroleum Corp, the company throwing the birthday bash for Berdymukhamedov.

Lopez and her entourage evidently had no idea of Berdymukhamedov's reputation, nor the miserable lives of his people.

As a PR disaster it's on a par with Hollywood actress Hilary Swank's visit to Chechnya two years ago. The Hollywood actress sacked her publicist after she appeared at a birthday event for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, unaware he has been accused of "abusing" his opponents.

JLO's Turkmenistan jaunt came to light when a member of her entourage, choreographer JR Taylor, tweeted: "I wonder where all my Turkmenistan followers are!? Hit me up!" The tweet was later deleted as people took to the microblogging site to express their anger at Lopez's gig.

Lopez's publicist later released a statement admitting her client's ignorance of the political situation in Turkmenistan. "Had there been knowledge of human rights issues of any kind, Jennifer would not have attended," the statement said.

Swank promised to give her "six-figure" appearance fee to charity after her Chechnya visit became a PR disaster. It remains to be seen if JLO will do the same.

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