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Rotating statue of late Turkmen dictator removed in new effort to expunge personality cult

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) — A prominent golden statue of Turkmenistan's former dictator has been taken down in a move further eroding the personality cult around the late Central Asian leader.

The Arch of Neutrality was a centerpiece of the capital, Ashgabat, and the most distinctive monument built in honor of eccentric leader Saparmurat Niyazov.

His gold-plated statue stood on a 230-foot (70-meter) white tile-clad tripod and rotated to face the sun.

Information is strictly controlled in this authoritarian former Soviet nation, but signs of the statue's imminent removal emerged when the statue stopped rotating several weeks ago. Workers removed the statue Wednesday and were dismantling the base Thursday.

Efforts to remove once-omnipresent reminders of the late dictator seem in part aimed at highlighting the profile of current President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov.

Niyazov — who renamed himself the Great Turkmenbashi, the "Father of All Turkmen" — died unexpectedly in 2006 after two decades of iron-fisted rule.

Berdymukhamedov has said a new monument devoted to Turkmenistan's neutral status will be built on the city outskirts, but no details have been issued. Few expect Niyazov's image to be resurrected.

Niyazov renamed cities, streets, months, periodicals and public organizations after himself and family members and made a two-volume spiritual tome he wrote mandatory reading.

Since Niyazov's death, most of his formerly ubiquitous portraits have been removed from the outsides of public buildings. Berdymukhamedov has also ordered Niyazov's name to be excised from the patriotic oath published in newspapers daily and repeated at the end of all TV news programs.

Despite efforts to excise the most visible emblems of Niyazov's legacy, the government has been wary of acknowledging the existence of a cult of personality.

Public portraits of Berdymukhamedov, who became president in 2007 amid vague commitments to open up the country, have also now become commonplace.

News programs are almost entirely focused on the president's work and frequently feature reports on his purported athletic prowess, thereby serving to stress a vivid contrast with his predecessor.