Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has been called outlandish, eccentric, insane, ruthless, and described as a tyrannical dictator. But the international media's comic portrayals of Niyazov distract attention from many of the very serious problems the country is facing, observers say.
Turkmen citizens have no chance to enjoy ballet, opera, a philharmonic orchestra, or a circus because Niyazov -- also known as Turkmenbashi the Great or the "Father of All Turkmen" -- has banned them, saying they contradict Turkmen national values.
No Health Care, Education
Niyazov has also ordered the dismissal of several thousand health-care workers and replaced them with military conscripts, while also closing down many rural hospitals.
Turkmen children only go to school until the ninth grade ever since the government reduced public education -- making it impossible for them to study at foreign universities.
Only adherents to Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodoxy are free to worship in Turkmenistan, as those who follow any other religion or religious sect usually face harsh repression, with some churches having been bulldozed.
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