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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 April, 2004, 21:43 GMT 22:43 UK
Avoid gold teeth, says Turkmen leader
The president of Turkmenistan has urged his people to resist the fashion for gold-capped teeth.

Music star Goldie
Gold-toothed music star Goldie: The wrong role model for Turkmen

The central Asian state's self-proclaimed president-for-life, Saparmurat Niyazov, issued the dental directive during a televised ceremony on Tuesday.

The president told a young woman at the ceremony to have her conspicuous gold teeth replaced with white ones by his health minister, "himself a dentist".

Style tips from the president - who likes to be known as Turkmenbashi or "Father of all Turkmen" - tend to be interpreted as law in Turkmenistan.

Gnawing issue

When he criticised long hair and beards amongst young men in February, they adopted short hairstyles and a clean-shaven appearance overnight.

Last year, he voiced a fondness for traditional braided hair and Turkmen fur hats amongst girls - this was swiftly made a rule for all schoolgirls.

Those of you whose teeth have fallen out did not gnaw on bones. This is my advice
President Niyazov

A traditional fondness for gold - coupled with bad standards of dentistry - mean gold teeth are relatively common in Turkmenistan.

According to President Niyazov, however, it is best to stick with one's original teeth.

"I watched young dogs when I was young. They were given bones to gnaw," he told the audience at Tuesday's ceremony.

"Those of you whose teeth have fallen out did not gnaw on bones. This is my advice," he said, according the Interfax news agency.

Gold fingers

Natural-gas rich Turkmenistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, has been governed by President Niyazov since 1985 when it was still a Soviet Republic.

President Saparmurat Niyazov
President Niyazov likes to keep a close eye on his people

He has banished all opposition parties and brought all media under his control.

He recently announced plans to have surveillance cameras installed on major streets and sites of Turkmenistan - a move apparently prompted by a failed coup attempt in 2002.

International human rights groups such as Amnesty have long expressed concern over Turkmenistan's record for imprisoning dissidents.

President Niyazov, whose white hair appears to have turned black in recent photographs, frequently expresses his distaste for what he describes as the decadence of the nation's youth.

However, his crusade against the use of gold does not appear to extend beyond dentistry.

Turkmenistan is full of gilded statues of its president, who frequently appears sporting jewel-studded gold rings on his fingers.

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