Turkmenistan's presidential personality cult-era papers renamed

RIA Novosti, Russia/January 26, 2009

Newspapers and magazines in Turkmenistan are removing references to the country's late president, Saparmurat Niyazov, and his relatives from their titles, Russian media said on Monday.

The eccentric Niyazov, or Turkmenbashi (the head of all Turkmen), ruled the former Soviet republic from 1985 until his death in 2006. His rule became increasingly bizarre after the collapse of the Soviet Union as he not only renamed newspapers and towns after himself and members of his family, but also months of the year.

However, his successor, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, has abolished many of the name changes introduced during Niyazov's rule.

A magazine for women, formerly known as Gurbansoltan-eje (the name of Niyazov's mother) has been renamed Zenan Kalby or A Woman's Soul. A youth newspaper, formerly known as Turkmenbashi Nesli (Descendants of Turkmenbashi) is now known as Nesli (Descendants).

Berdymukhammedov has also reintroduced the Gregorian calendar for days of the week and months of the year.

He has also moved to scrap bans on opera, ballet, and the circus, and restored the Academy of Sciences. The Turkmen parliament also removed in December 2008 Niyazov's name from the country's anthem.

The new president has even made some moves toward opening the country up to the outside world, including lifting a ban on Internet access. He has also called for widespread reforms of the country's decaying healthcare and education systems.

Despite the reforms, opposition parties, largely based abroad, remain critical of the state of democracy and human rights in the Central Asian country.

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