Turkmenistan plans first statue of current president

Turkmenistan is set to erect the first statue of its current president under a government plan echoing the bizarre personality cult of its late dictator.

The deputy prime minister, foreign minister and other officials backed a scheme to put up a statue of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in Ashgabat, state newspaper Neitralny Turkmenistan reported on Friday.

"The high level of development of our country, its successes and achievements are inextricably linked to the name of Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov," Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov said.

"The desire of the people is sacred and the people must be consulted on this question," Berdymukhamedov was quoted as saying. "So listen to the people and do as they want."

The country's late dictator, the eccentric Saparmurat Niyazov, known as the Turkmenbashi, famously erected a golden statue of himself that revolved to face the sun.

It was initially ripped down after Niyazov's death in 2006 but has since been moved to the outskirts of the capital.

His successor Berdymukhamedov, a former dentist, has embarked on tentative reforms and dismantled much of the Turkmenbashi personality cult, from days of the week and months named after Niyazov's family members to compulsory school lessons on a book he wrote.

Critics say Berdymukhamedov has developed a similar style. He is known as "Arkadag" -- "The Protector" -- and has opened a museum devoted to his father, a retired interior ministry official.

He won a new presidential term in February 2012 polls with 97 percent of the popular vote despite what international watchdogs say is a dismal rights record.

Turkmenistan is believed to have the world's fourth largest gas reserves and Berdymukhamedov has presided over a huge construction boom.