Page last updated at 11:49 GMT, Wednesday, 22 July 2009 12:49 UK

Turkmen leader removes a tumour

Turkmen President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov
President Berdymukhamedov is a trained dentist and ex-health minister

The President of Turkmenistan has opened a new cancer hospital in the Central Asian country by performing the clinic's first operation himself.

Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, a trained dentist, reportedly removed a benign tumour from behind a patient's ear.

He was assisted during the operation by German and local doctors, state-controlled media report.

Mr Berdymukhamedov was a health minister in the government of former President Saparmurat Niyazov.

Healthcare under the autocratic President Niyazov, whose grip on power isolated the energy-rich former Soviet nation for almost two decades, was among the worst in the region.

In a radical move in 2005, he decided to close all hospitals in the country except those in the capital, Ashgabat.

In 2004, he sacked the country's 15,000 medical workers, replacing them with army conscripts.

Since coming to power after Niyazov's death in 2006, Mr Berdymukhamedov has reversed some of his predecessor's often idiosyncratic policies, which tended to favour lavish personal projects rather than social welfare.

But officials recently suggested that Mr Berdymukhamedov's book on medicinal plants should become a handbook for health workers.

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