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    Turkmenistan celebrates president's 20th anniversary in power

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    AZHGABAD, December 21 (RIA Novosti) - The Central Asian Republic of Turkmenistan is celebrating the 20th anniversary of President Saparmurat Niyazov's rule Wednesday.

    The country's newspapers are praising the president, also known as Turkmenbashi, or the father of all Turkmens.

    "Today marks 20 years since the great son of the Turkmen people came to power, and his name has been linked to the country's difficult, but amazing history. The great Saparmurat Turkmenbashi!"

    Niyazov became the top Communist Party boss in the then-Soviet republic of Turkmenistan at the age of 45. Five years later he became the first and, thus far, the only president of the republic and of independent Turkmenistan following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    Official figures showed that 98.3% of voters supported him at the time and 99.5% in the first post-Soviet presidential elections on June 21, 1992. Niyazov slid into the second term without elections, in accordance with the results of the referendum held in 1994.

    In December 1999, the parliament adopted a unanimous decision to grant Niyazov the exclusive right to remain president indefinitely.

    The town of Turkmenbashi is named in his honor. At least one district in all Turkmen regions is also named for the leader, and there is a street bearing his name in virtually every settlement.

    In 2002, Niyazov renamed January Turkmenbashi.

    September was renamed Rukhnama, a kind of spiritual code for the Turkmens, written by the president. All citizens are supposed to read it on Saturdays to grow spiritually, which they can also do by going to the movies or the theater, according to the decree.

    Although the president objects to being lavished with rewards, he was decorated with almost all the possible state awards. He was given the title of a six-time hero of Turkmenistan.

    As Niyazov says, he "cannot withstand the people's will."

    Another sign of general acclaim are Niyazov's portraits hanging on the walls in every administrative building.

    "I was destined to lead the people of Turkmenistan at the junction of two centuries. I took on the responsibility to lead my people away from the failures and hardships of the gloomy period in its modern history to the pinnacles of the third millennium," Niyazov wrote in his book.

    Celebrations were being held throughout the republic Wednesday. In the morning, senior officials visited the mosque in the president's native village where the president's family vault is located.

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