Turkmenistan's president won a horse race in the most embarrassing way possible

During a race on Sunday to mark the Day of the Turkmen Racehorse, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and his horse Berkarar (Mighty), of the national Akhal-Teke breed, were the first to stride across the finish line, claiming an $11 million prize.

The strongman, who is known as Arkadag (the Patron), bested six other riders by completing the 1,000-meter course in 21.2 seconds, and proclaimed that he would donate his winnings to a state-run company that breeds horses. "The spectators' attention was riveted on the golden arrow -- Berkarar, led by the leader of the nation," one news outlet in the country gushed (never mind that, as Russia's RIA Novosti noted, public institutions forced workers to attend the races or "face punishments including dismissal from work"). 

It was a nice and tidy story spun by the country's state-controlled media -- until, that is, EurasiaNet got hold of a video reportedly showing Berdymukhammedov crossing the finish line, only to tumble off his horse and face-plant in the dirt, prompting black-suited officials to frantically run to the president's aid. Here's another clip of the incident circulating on Turkish television (h/t RFE/RL):

EurasiaNet has more:

The motionless Berdymukhamedov, who was apparently briefly knocked unconscious, was haphazardly lifted in a manner that could have left him paralyzed, if his spine had been injured. Security officials in the crowd waved for cameras to stop filming and snarled at those that continued. An ambulance sped out onto the track and the huddled ministers and security officials loaded Berdymukhamedov inside, to be whisked away to receive medical attention.

For approximately an hour it was not clear if Berdymukhamedov was alive or dead, or how injured he might be. Security officials had little idea what to do. Along with dignitaries in the stands, they sat uncomfortably in their seats, sure only that leaving the stadium was not an option. Finally, state cameramen arranged themselves and Berdymukhamedov briefly presented himself, moving stiffly but able to wave to the crowd, which cheered.

Berdymukhammedov's affection for Akhal-Teke horses has been well-documented since he took office in 2006. He's authored two books about them -- "The Flight of Celestial Race Horses" and "Akhal-Teke - Our Pride and Glory," and launched a government website, "Heavenly Akhal--Teke Horses," to boot. He's also mandated annual beauty contests for the horses, and once fired the head of the national equine association for not doing enough to develop the horse industry.

As for the horse carrying Berdymukhammedov on Sunday? He appears to be safe for now.



Obama's 'red line' has become the international community's 'red line'

Clarifying his administration's "red line" policy, Barack Obama told reporters Tuesday that if Syria used chemical weapons against its citizens, it would represent a "game-changer not simply for the United States, but for the international community."

The tweaked wording is potentially important because it switches the emphasis from a red line that triggers U.S. action to a red line that triggers international action -- something a U.S. president is less capable of implementing unilaterally.

The point was punctuated twice during the White House press conference. Here's Obama (our emphasis added):

When I said the use of chemical weapons would be a game-changer, that wasn't a position unique to the United States, and it shouldn't have been a surprise.... The use of chemical weapons would be a game changer. Not simply for the United States, but for the international community. And the reason for that is we have established international law and international norms that say when you use these kinds of weapons you have the potential of killing massive numbers of people in the most inhumane way possible and the proliferation risks are so significant that we don't want the genie out of the bottle.

To some observers, these comments suggested that a U.S. response was dependent on a willingness of the international community to respond. Per Roll Call Senior Editor David Drucker:

The president is of course correct that other countries have drawn red lines when it comes to Syria's use of chemical weapons. But that doesn't guarantee a unified response. For instance: Just this morning Iran said it views the use of chemical weapons as a "red line." Russia too has directly warned Syria not to use chemical weapons. But given the two countries' support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (monetarily and militarily) it's almost inconceivable to imagine the three countries working together even with the presentation of clear proof that Assad used chemical weapons.

So what does the president even mean by "game-changer"?

"By game-changer I mean that we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us," he said on Tuesday. "Obviously there are options to me that are on the shelf right now that we have not deployed." Take of that what you will.