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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 October, 2004, 07:42 GMT 08:42 UK
Turkmens honour 'great leader'
By Monica Whitlock
BBC correspondent in Ashgabat

President Saparmurat Niyazov
Niyazov has made himself president for life
Turkmenistan has been celebrating its independence holiday with a huge parade in honour of President Niyazov, also known as Turkmenbashi.

Mr Niyazov, who is president for life, watched as the military, Turkmen horsemen and others paid tribute in the main square of the capital, Ashgabat.

The assembled crowd shouted: "Great leader, great leader".

There had clearly been months of preparation for Wednesday's parade.

In bright sunshine, the Turkmen army marched through the marble square, shouting "Turkmenbashi, Turkmenbashi", saluting at the balcony where the leader was just visible.

Rows and rows of identical black horses came next, their hooves painted gold, and their riders in gold sashes and traditional white lambskin hats.

Behind them danced hundreds of school children around a huge model of Turkmenbashi's book of sayings, the Rukhnama.

The book is required reading in schools and now stands alongside the Koran in mosques.

The festivities are yet another expression symbolising the authority's regime, and the blurring between Turkmenistan the country and Turkmenbashi the man.

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