05/26/2015, 00.00
TURKMENISTAN
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Turkmen president gets a gilded equestrian statue paid with wages "donated" by the people

The 21-metre monument includes a gilded statue of the president on horseback on top of a marble pedestal. It is on the same site where a monument to his predecessor once stood. The latter has been moved to the outskirts of the capital.

Ashgabat (AsiaNews) - Authorities in Turkmenistan have unveiled in the capital a giant gilded statue of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov on horseback, holding a dove. With its thrusting marble pedestal, the monument bears a strong resemblance to the Bronze Horseman, the iconic equestrian statue of Russian Tsar Peter the Great that was unveiled in St. Petersburg in 1782.

The inauguration of the monument was accompanied by chanting ‘Glory to Arkadag!’, protector in the Turkmen language, a reference to Berdymukhammedov's official title. White doves and coloured balloons were released into the sky (pictured).

This is the second largest monument built in honour of a president. The 21-metre monument stands on a marble pedestal, in a central square, and shows Berdymukhammedov on a horse, holding a dove, gilded with 24-carat gold.

As envisioned by the creators, this will become the new symbol of the capital and will outshine the previous monument – the Arch of Neutrality with a 15-metre statue of President Saparmurat Niyazov that stood on a 75-metre marble-plated plinth, which was moved to the outskirts of the capital after the latter’s death in 2006.

The cult of personality for Turkmenistan’s leaders is thus alive and well. Niyazov, who was officially titled Turkmenbashi (The Leader of Turkmens), had several gilded monuments built in honour of his power. Berdymukhammedov is following suit and is looking to be glorified in lieu of his predecessor.

Berdymukhamedov has relegated to the suburbs a statue of Niyazov that rotated to face the sun, the earth’s star. He has also gradually phased out Niyazov’s Ruhnama, or ‘Book of the Soul’, which was required reading in schools and government offices.

The Chronicles of Turkmenistan independent website reported that the monument will be paid with money was raised from employees of government-run organisations, including 100 manats (about US$ 30) from rural areas.

“We, the entire country, have voluntarily decided to donate funds to eternalize the memory of good deeds and daily self-sacrificing labour for the benefit of the nation!” is how the fundraising is being presented.

Reporters without Borders ranks Turkmenistan third worst offender against press freedom in the world out of a total of 180 countries surveyed. Only North Korea and Eritrea are worse.

Elected in 2006 after Niyazov’s death, the current president promised to implement democratic reforms. In fact, few changes have taken place and Turkmenistan is regularly blacklisted as one of Freedom House's ‘Worst of the Worst’ list of repressive countries for its lack of civil liberties.

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