LOS ANGELES (AFP) – United States pop diva Jennifer Lopez appeared at a birthday bash for Turkmenistan’s hardline leader but would have abstained if she had known of “human right issues of any kind” regarding him, a spokeswoman said.
And she only wished “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov as a “gracious” last-minute favor when asked to by a Chinese oil company which organized the weekend event, her publicist said in a statement.
J.Lo was believed to be the first major Western star to visit the isolated former Soviet republic, known primarily for its vast gas reserves and a dismal human rights record.
She performed along with stars from Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey for Berdymukhamedov’s 56th birthday bash at the glitzy resort in Avaza, which means “land of singing waves.”
“Jennifer Lopez and several other artists were invited and performed at a private corporate event for the China National Petroleum Corporation that was presented to their local executives in Turkmenistan,” said her publicist.
“This was not a government sponsored event or political in nature. The event was vetted by her representatives, had there been knowledge of human right issues of any kind, Jennifer would not have attended.”
And regarding her Marilyn Monroe moment with the Turkmen president, the publicist explained: “The China National Petroleum Corporation made a last-minute ‘birthday greeting’ request prior to Jennifer taking the stage. This was not stipulated in her contract but she graciously obliged the China National Petroleum Corporation request.”
The birthday festivities were officially tied to Turkmen cultural week, which culminated on Saturday with the opening of a yacht club at the resort and a firework display.
A report by Human Rights Watch in January described Turkmenistan as “one of the world’s most repressive” regimes.
However, Berdymukhamedov has over the past years overseen an extraordinary construction boom in the country, with $2 billion invested since 2007 in Avaza alone.
It is the main resort in the country and lies near the city of Turkmenbashi, named after previous president Saparmurat Niyazov.