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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 December 2006, 08:14 GMT
Obituary: Saparmurat Niyazov
President Saparmurat Niyazov
President Niyazov was known for giving eccentric orders
The authoritarian president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, who has died aged 66, created a cult of personality during his two decades in power.

Statues and portraits of the self-styled Turkmenbashi, Father of the Turkmen, were erected everywhere. Cities, airports and even a meteorite were named after him.

He introduced increasingly personal laws, and a book he wrote to be a "spiritual guide" for the nation was made required reading.

It was, say analysts, one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world.

President Niyazov tolerated no dissent, and there is no political opposition and free media. Many opponents fled abroad to highlight the abuses.

An alleged assassination attempt in 2002 was used by the president to crush his few remaining opponents, drawing condemnation from human rights groups and the US government.

President Niyazov had long suffered from heart problems, publicly acknowledging for the first time in November 2006 that he had heart disease.

Bizarre laws

Saparmurat Niyazov was born in 1940 but orphaned at an early age, growing up in a state orphanage. His father died in WWII and his mother was killed in the earthquake that devastated Turkmenistan's capital in 1948.

Turkmen propaganda was later to make much of these humble beginnings.

Statue of Niyazov in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Thousands of statues of the president dot the country

The young Niyazov rose quickly up the Communist party ladder, becoming first secretary of then Soviet Turkmenistan at the age of 45.

He became president after the transition to independence in 1991, adopting the title Turkmenbashi. He became president for life in 1999.

His influence spilled over into every sphere of Turkmen life. Even the months and days of the week were named after himself and his family.

When he gave up smoking after major heart surgery in 1997, he ordered all his ministers to do the same and banned smoking in public places.

He later declared a ban on young men wearing beards and long hair.

Opera, ballet, listening to car radios and the playing of recorded music on television and at public events was forbidden.

His book, the Ruhnama - a collection of his thoughts on Turkmen identity, history and destiny - was put on the curriculum of schools and universities.

President Niyazov was accused of spending more money on his grandiose projects - such as a huge man-made lake in the Kara Kum desert, and an ice palace in the capital Ashgabat - than on social welfare.

His legacy is grim, say analysts. Despite the Central Asian's state rich energy resources, the country is mired in poverty - with crumbling education, health and social systems.

The president's attempts to create a 'personality cult'

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