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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 December 2006, 10:47 GMT
Turkmenistan mourns late leader
Funeral of Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov
Saparmurat Niyazov's funeral is taking place amid tight security
Thousands of mourners have paid their respects to the late President of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, who died from a sudden heart attack.

Turkmens filed past Mr Niyazov's body as it lay in state in the presidential palace in the capital, Ashgabat.

The body of the self-styled "Father of All Turkmens" was then being buried in his home village, next to his parents.

There are now fears of instability in a country that is a key supplier of natural gas to Europe.

Turkmenistan has the world's fifth-largest stocks of natural gas, and has borders with Iran and with Afghanistan.

Heads of state from across Central Asia, and high-ranking delegations from elsewhere are in Ashgabat for the ceremonies.

Many are watching for signs of political life after Mr Niyazov.

The BBC's Natalia Antelava says exiled opposition groups are already lobbying to return to the country, adding that inside the country signs of a power struggle are emerging.

Grim legacy

A tank carried Mr Niyazov's coffin away from the presidential palace and to the village of his birth outside Ashgabat, where he will be buried.

Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov
The authoritarian rule of the late Turkmen leader lasted 21 years
Earlier, some of the thousands of people who came to pay their respects appeared grief-stricken by the death of their leader.

Many bowed and carried flowers, and some people wept openly as they approached his coffin.

Flags in Turkmenistan are flying at half-mast for the funeral, shops and restaurants are closed and New Year celebrations have been cancelled.

Our correspondent says that during two decades of rule, Mr Niyazov turned himself into the only man who mattered in Turkmenistan.

He wielded absolute power and fostered a cult of personality around himself and his family.

Turkmenistan's map
But his legacy is grim, our correspondent says: he jailed or exiled his political opponents, created no functioning political institutions, and left no obvious successor.

Mr Niyazov created one of the most elaborate personality cults the world has seen.

He erected golden statues of himself, he banned beards and ballet, and renamed January after himself and April after his mother.

Ruhnama, the book he wrote, became the cornerstone of Turkmenistan's education and legal systems. Reading it regularly, Mr Niyazov told his people, would secure them a place in heaven.

His pictures were on display at all street corners, his political opponents were either in jail or exiled, and he formed the basis of the system he had created.

President Niyazov is buried in his family's mausoleum

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