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Turkmenistan Names New Mosque After Leader

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has dismantled the personality cult of his predecessor.
ASHGABAT (Reuters) -- Turkmenistan has named a newly built mosque after its president, bringing back memories of his predecessor who named cities, streets and the first month of the year after himself.

The Central Asian nation's state television reported on the opening of the new mosque -- named after President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov -- late on March 5 in a town in the south of the country.

"I congratulate you on the opening of the... mosque built by the president and named after Gurbanguly-hajji," Tukmenistan's Grand Mufti Roushen Alaberdyev was shown as saying.

The mosque is made of white marble and can hold up to 2,500 people, Turkmen media said.

Saparmurat Niyazov, who ruled Turkmenistan with an iron fist for 21 years until his death in 2006, dotted the desert nation with statues of himself and also renamed all other months and days of the week after his mother, national poets, and symbols.

He declared himself Turkmenbashi, or Head of the Turkmen, and banned opera, ballet and circus during his long rule.

Berdymukhammedov, who pledged to reform the long-isolated state, has reversed some of those steps, but human rights groups say he has done little to change the country's authoritarian political system and give his people more freedom.