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Last Updated: Monday, 21 June, 2004, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
Turkmenistan hails leader's anniversary
By Monica Whitlock
BBC correspondent in Central Asia

President Saparmurat Niyazov
Mr Niyazov was declared president for life in 1999
Turkmenistan is holding official celebrations to mark the 12th year in office of President Niyazov, called Turkmenbashi or leader of Turkmens.

Government offices are holding thanksgiving meals and state television is broadcasting congratulatory poems, describing Mr Niyazov as a shining torch and his administration as the most perfect democratic organisation.

Turkmenistan is a highly authoritarian state and it is becoming more and more isolated as Mr Niyazov's rule grows more idiosyncratic.

All three Turkmen television stations, radio and the newspapers are full of eulogies. "One Allah, one homeland, one leader," says a typical poem.

A new six-metre-high (20 feet) bronze statue of Turkmenbashi has gone up at the parliament and in government buildings, officials are sitting down to thanksgiving feasts of lamb and rice, a traditional meal with strong religious connotations.

It is 12 years since Mr Niyazov was declared president of Turkmenistan under a new constitution that marked his country's transition from the Soviet past. He was elected with 99.5% of the vote and later declared president for life.

From the start, his rule was eccentric and authoritarian, but some ministers spoke openly and most foreigners visited at will.

In recent years however, Turkmenistan has changed.

Outsiders find it hard to get in and many ministers have been sacked, some driven into internal exile in the desert.

Official rhetoric shows an administration often out of touch. One newspaper recently called Turkmenistan the envy of people in many countries in America, Africa and the Middle East.

Turkmenistan is rich in natural gas and this has brought Turkmenbashi support from abroad.

Relations with Russia are fairly good. A Russian company is building a new seaport on the Turkmen-Caspian coast and President Kuchma of Ukraine, which buys most of Turkmenistan's gas, sent a special message for the anniversary, calling Turkmenbashi a wise and provident leader.

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Turkmenistan: Isolated but dangerous
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09 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific
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09 Aug 03  |  Europe
Country profile: Turkmenistan
21 Jan 04  |  Country profiles

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