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Turkmenistan: National Council Opens Session

Turkmenistan's Halk Maslahaty, or National Council, met today for the first time in almost three years. The council's 3,000 delegates usually meet at the end of the year and typically use the session to rubber-stamp and praise the policies of President Saparmurat Niyazov. RFE/RL reports that delegates at the first day's session went out of their way to shower praise on the autocratic leader, including renaming the month of April after Niyazov's late mother.

Prague, 8 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Some 3,000 delegates to Turkmenistan's Halk Maslahaty, or National Council, met today for the first time in nearly three years.

Delegates gathered in the eastern city of Turkmenabad (formerly Charjoi) for the first day of an expected two-day session.

The National Council usually meets at the end of the year to approve the policies of President Saparmurat Niyazov and to shower him with awards for service to the country. It wasn't clear why the session was called or why it was held in August.

Today's session appeared to go further than ever in praising the autocratic Niyazov.

Delegate Sadullah Rozmetov, designated a Hero of Turkmenistan, proposed that an academy be established devoted solely to studying Niyazov's book "Rukhname." The book was published last year as a spiritual guide but has become an informal legal code for the country. Entrance exams to Turkmenistan's universities place heavy emphasis on knowledge of "Rukhname."

The council also voted unanimously to give Niyazov the new award of Great Writer of the People.

The delegates then approved a measure to rename the days of the week and the months of the year. The new names for days are rather ordinary: Monday will be called Bashgun, or First Day. Tuesday becomes Yashgun, or Young Day, and so on.

The names for the months are more colorful and reflect Turkmen traditions. January will now be known as Turkmenbashi, reflecting Niyazov's own affectionate nickname. December will be Neitralitet, or Neutrality, to remind Turkmens of their country's official status as a neutral state.

April was originally intended to be called Ine, or Mother, but delegate Muratberdy Sopiev proposed that the month be named after Niyazov's mother, Gorbansultan, who was killed in 1948 in an earthquake in Ashgabat. The new name is Gurbansoltan Ije, Auntie or Granny Gorbansultan.

In fact, many streets, hospitals, towns, villages, and factories already bear the name of the president's mother. And at today's council session, she had yet another district named after her in Lebap Etrap Province and one in the city of Turkmenabad.

Delegates appeared to approve a decision made at the last council meeting in 1999 to anoint Niyazov president for life.

Delegate Safarmarmed Valliev, head of the state gas-and-oil company Turkmenneftgaz, said there should be no discussion of holding any presidential elections during the council. "Fathers and Brothers! You all know well that the Turkmens have a saying, 'If there is no head on the body, it is only a corpse.' We have achieved great things. After thousands of years, we [the Turkmen people] have a state, a government. By the will of Allah, our great leader rules our country. The Halk Maslahaty made him president for life. Let no one forget this! Therefore, to the proposal of our leader to hold presidential election we say: NO! No! No!" Valliev said.

Presidential elections were originally scheduled to be held this year, but there has been no mention of elections since the last council meeting.

The next speaker, Sopiev, said Niyazov should live 150 years and lead the country all that time.

The council continues tomorrow.

(Rozinar Khoudaiberdiev, Guvantsh Gueraev, and Murat Yilmam of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service contributed to this report)