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Tuesday, October 27, 1998 Published at 20:46 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Turkmenistan celebrates independence

President Saparmurat Niyazov is knownn as 'leader of the Turkmens' and almost every song and dance is dedicated to him

By Central Asia correspondent Louise Hidalgo

Turkmenistan is celebrating its seventh anniversary of independence from the former Soviet Union, with the big personality cult of its leader President Saparmurat Niyazov dominating the events.

Beneath a huge Turkmen carpet and portrait of himself, President Niyazov began the day by reviewing a military parade.

Jets roared across the city as army officers marched in best Soviet tradition across the Square in front of the gold domed presidential palace built especially for him.

[ image: Turkmenistan signed a deal with Iran for a gas pipeline that will not cross Russia]
Turkmenistan signed a deal with Iran for a gas pipeline that will not cross Russia
It is one of a series of extravagant building projects, which culminates later this year in the opening of a huge monument 70 metres high on which a statue of the president will revolve.

Mr Niyazov's portrait is on almost every office building and at the pageant to celebrate seven years of independence thousands of performers heaped praise upon the man who was officially Turkmenistan's first hero.

The fact that Mr Niyazov himself failed to attend was not marked by state-run television in its continuous coverage and maybe in the event it did not matter.

There has already been a call for him to be made president for life and the Turkmen leader himself has justified the personality cult by portraying himself as a strong man able to maintain social and economic order.

For centuries the Turkmen were nomads, ruled by desert chieftains whose raids provided slaves for the cities of the Old Silk Road and of all the central Asians it was the Turkmen tribes who last century, put up the fiercest resistance to Russian rule.

Mr Niyazov has led Turkmenistan since Soviet times and there are those who genuinely fear what would become of this new desert nation without his autocratic style of government.

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