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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ashgabat Says It Will Invest $1Bln in Caspian Sea Resort

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- Turkmenistan announced plans Saturday to spend $1 billion and seek additional foreign investment to build a major tourist resort on the Caspian Sea.

The plans for Turkmenbashi, the main port of the energy-rich Central Asian country, were presented Saturday at a government meeting attended by Turkmenistan's president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, and representatives of 40 foreign companies.

Turkmenbashi, which until 1993 was called Krasnovodsk, is home to Turkmenistan's largest oil refinery. The city also has 16 kilometers of shoreline.

The government said Saturday that it would create the first free economic zone in the country to attract investment for building tourism infrastructure and also for the general economic development of the port.

International oil and gas companies have been intensifying their competition for access to Turkmenistan's vast energy resources. Foreign access was all but blocked under Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan's long-ruling autocratic president, but since his death in December, the new government has been more welcoming of foreign investment in the energy sector.

The plans for Turkmenbashi call for building 60 hotels, restaurants, a 3,000-seat stadium, sports facilities and shopping centers.

"The main aim is to create comfortable conditions for the Turkmen people on vacation," Berdymukhammedov said.

Turkmenbashi is located about 700 kilometers from Ashgabat, the capital of the former Soviet republic, and directly across the Caspian from Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

The port was founded in the 19th century as a Russian fort. It was renamed in 1993 for Niyazov, who called himself Turkmenbashi, the Father of all Turkmen.