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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 October 2006, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
Turkmen leader opens 'bookhouse'
By Natalia Antelava
BBC Central Asian correspondent

The House of Free Creativity
The building has high-tech libraries and archives
Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov has personally inaugurated a massive book-shaped building dedicated to the free media.

The House of Free Creativity aims to create a comfortable environment for journalists, the government says.

But a building devoted to press freedom is an irony in a country where journalism is state-controlled.

Turkmenistan has no private or foreign media, and the internet is inaccessible for most people.

In the past few years, President Niyazov - who runs one of the world's most authoritarian regimes - has launched a series of extravagant projects.

Those included building of an ice palace and a ski resort in a desert and planting a cypress forest designed to change the country's climate.

Spy network

The new building, which glitters in the dark, features high-tech libraries and archives, fountains and state-of-the-art air conditioning and heating systems.

A poster of Ppresident Saparmurat Niyazov is carried through the streets of Ashgabat during a parade. File photo
President Niyazov has created a personality cult

All of it is designed to create a comfortable environment for the journalists who work for the state controlled press, according to the pro-government website.

There is no privately-owned media in the Central Asian nation, and all four state television channels only broadcast poems and statements written by President Niyazov.

His profile features permanently in the corner of the screens.

Observers say a sophisticated spy network that monitors every step of every Turkmen citizen means that no-one can practise journalism freely.

Those few who try to work undercover are regularly harassed, beaten and jailed, and even helping rare foreign visitors could have serious repercussions, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Last month, a 58-year-old reporter for Radio Liberty, Ogulsapar Muradova, died in a high security prison.

She was one of three journalists jailed on charges of illegal possession of arms and anti-state activities.

Officials said Ms Muradova died from natural causes, but eye witnesses said her body bore clear marks of torture.

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13 Sep 04 |  Asia-Pacific
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02 Aug 04 |  Asia-Pacific
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19 Jun 02 |  Asia-Pacific
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29 May 02 |  Asia-Pacific
The cult of the Turkmen leader
02 Nov 01 |  Asia-Pacific

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