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J. Lo sings happy birthday wishes to repressive Asian leader

By Alan Duke, CNN
updated 6:34 AM EDT, Mon July 1, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jennifer Lopez performed at Turkmenistan president's birthday celebration
  • Human Rights Watch says Turkmenistan has "extraordinary levels of repression"
  • Spokesman: Lopez didn't realize the human rights issues around Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov

(CNN) -- Jennifer Lopez sang "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" on Saturday to a leader who has been characterized as one of the most repressive in the world.

"We wish you the very, very, happiest birthday," Lopez said to Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, and then she sang to him at a huge celebration at a resort in the central Asian country.

The singer's spokesman told CNN Sunday that "had there been knowledge of human right issues of any kind, Jennifer would not have attended."

Human Rights Watch, in a report to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, recently called Turkmenistan "a country marked by extraordinary levels of repression."

In June, Jennifer Lopez sang "Happy Birthday" to Turkmanistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, whose regime was described as "one of the world's most repressive" in a January 2013 report by Human Rights Watch. Lopez is believed to be the first major Western star to visit the isolated former Soviet republic, and her performance caused a backlash. In June, Jennifer Lopez sang "Happy Birthday" to Turkmanistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, whose regime was described as "one of the world's most repressive" in a January 2013 report by Human Rights Watch. Lopez is believed to be the first major Western star to visit the isolated former Soviet republic, and her performance caused a backlash.
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"Widely recognized as one of the most repressive in the world, the Turkmen government exercises total control of public life," the report said.

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov at a news conference in 2012.
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov at a news conference in 2012.

In concert with controversy

Lopez tears up during star ceremony

Lopez spokesman Mark Young said she "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."

The event was not sponsored by the government and not political, he said.

"The China National Petroleum Corporation made a last-minute 'birthday greeting' request prior to Jennifer taking the stage," he said.

"This was not stipulated in her contract, but she graciously obliged the China National Petroleum Corporation request."

Once part of the Soviet Union until late 1991, Turkmenistan has abundant gas and oil resources. The CIA Factbook says the leadership uses its "gas and cotton export revenues to sustain its inefficient and highly corrupt economy." The country borders Afghanistan and Iran.

Berdymukhamedov has been chief of state and head of government since February 2007, the CIA Factbook says.

Tearful Lopez receives Walk of Fame star

CNN's Denise Quan contributed to this report.

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