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Turkmenistan president Niyazov dies

Saparmurat Niyazov, who ruled the gas-rich Central Asian country for 20 yrs, dies due to cardiac arrest, reports Fred Weir.

india Updated: Dec 23, 2006 16:09 IST
Fred Weir
Fred Weir

Turkmenistan's quirky president-for-life, Saparmurat Niyazov, has died unexpectedly, throwing the gas-rich Central Asian state into political uncertainty.

"Turkmenbashi (Leader of the Turkmen) the Great has died," said a solemn news presenter on Turkmen TV.

The brief news item said only that the 66-year old leader, who re-named months of the year after himself and his mother, had died of cardiac arrest.

Niyazov, the former Communist Party chief of mostly-desert country of 5-million, had ruled with an iron fist for over two decades and left no designated successor.

Turkmenistan, Central Asia's second-largest exporter of gas, has so far avoided the turmoil that has struck neighbours such as Afghanistan and Uzbekistan and has remained largely sealed-off from the rest of the world under Niyazov's authoritarian rule.

In recent years Niyazov had become increasingly erratic, passing laws banning men from wearing beards or listening to car radios, naming towns and airports after himself and scattering statues of his mother around the country.

A year ago he ordered all doctors to swear a personal oath to himself instead of the Hippocratic Oath.

Russian news agencies report that a special commission, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has been set up to oversee funeral arrangements.

In previous Soviet traditions, the man designated to head such a commission was often the designated successor. Little is known about Berdymukhamedov, though he is thought to be a relative of Niyazov.

First Published: Dec 23, 2006 14:39 IST