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Turkmen President Denounces Hairy Youth

Ashgabat, 27 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Turkmenistan's authoritarian president has denounced the wearing by young men of beards or long hair.

State-run TV today reports that President Saparmurat Niyazov spoke out in a cabinet meeting earlier this week against the custom.

Niyazov's remarks often make law in Turkmenistan, where he has ruled since 1985 when it was a Soviet republic. Last year, Niyazov suggested that girls should wear braids and traditional Turkmen hats, and that immediately became a rule in secondary and high schools.

The secular governments of Central Asia have sought to inhibit any forms of perceived Islamic extremism, and beards commonly symbolize devotion to the Muslim faith. But there were no indications whether Niyazov's statement disclosed concern over fundamentalism or just a personal preference.