May 3, 2008 / 1:50 PM / 10 years ago

Turkmenistan to move gold statue of Turkmenbashi

ASHGABAT (Reuters) - A rotating gold statue of Turkmenistan’s former leader is to be removed from the centre of the capital, state media said on Saturday, as his successor chips away at the late president’s personality cult.

Independence Day fireworks light the sky above the gold-plated statue of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat late October 27, 2002. A rotating gold statue of Turkmenistan's former leader is to be removed from the centre of the capital, state media said on Saturday, as his successor chips away at the late president's personality cult. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

Saparmurat Niyazov spent his 21 years in power building Turkmenistan into one of the world’s most isolated regimes while imposing his mark on the gas-rich Central Asian state.

He styled himself Turkmenbashi, or “Father of all the Turkmen”, and spent giant sums building sumptuous memorials to his own wisdom, including a 75-metre-tall (246 feet) tower in central Ashgabat whose summit is a statue of himself.

But President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has ordered the giant syringe-like structure that towers over low-rise Ashgabat to be removed to a southern suburb, state media said.

The tower, known as the Arch of Neutrality because Niyazov said one of his biggest achievements was to ensure Turkmenistan’s neutrality status, is topped by a 12-metre (40-foot) gold-plated effigy of the leader.

With arms outstretched as if to embrace his subjects from the lofty perch, Niyazov rotates once every 24 hours, tracking the path of the sun from dawn to dusk.

Berdymukhamedov, who came to power in February 2007 after Niyazov died of heart failure in late 2006, said it should be moved to a major avenue in the south of the city, which is called Neutrality Avenue.

“A proposal to move the Arch of Neutrality was discussed at the meeting,” Turkmen television said on Saturday.

“It is expeditious to place this monumental construction in the south of the city where the prospect with the same name starts,” it said.

Niyazov, who banned ballet as indecent and forced all school children to take exams on a giant book of folklore and morality which he penned, build the statue in 1998 at a cost of at least $12 million.

A Reuters correspondent said there was no sign that removal of the Neutrality Arc, which looks almost like a squat Eiffel Tower, had begun.

It was unclear from the media reports when work would start to remove it and whether Niyazov’s gold-plated statue would still top the structure after it was moved.

Berdymukhamedov has pushed for market reforms to make the economy more attractive to foreign investors and reversed some of Niyazov’s most eccentric policies.

Writing by Guy Faulconbridge, editing by Jon Boyle

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