Wednesday, April 14, 2004
And it isn't Kim Jong Il:
He has banned beards and listening to car radios, and instituted a national holiday in honour of a melon. Now the world’s craziest dictator has identified a new and pressing danger to his people: gold teeth. It was at one of the interminable events in his honour that the President of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, turned to the young student from an agricultural university reading an address praising her President and told her to get her gold teeth removed and replaced with white ones. "Here’s the health minister, himself a dentist," he told the unfortunate woman. "He will give you white teeth."We report, you decide.
The great dictator did not stop there. He had some remarkable advice for the people of his former Soviet republic on how to avoid losing their teeth. "I watched young dogs when I was young," he said. "They were given bones to gnaw. Those of you whose teeth have fallen out did not gnaw on bones. This is my advice." Gold teeth are popular in the desert country where, despite the health minister’s credentials, dentistry standards are poor and many lose their teeth young. But they are expected to disappear in coming weeks: tips from Mr Niyazov are regarded as law.
This sort of eccentricity is becoming the norm under Mr Niyazov, who prefers to be known as Turkmenbashi, "Leader of the Turkmens". In many ways he is the classic dictator. Turkmenistan is littered with gold statues of him, including a giant revolving one in the capital, Ashgabat. He has appointed himself "president for life", and his rule is absolute. But in Mr Niyazov’s case this has meant his country of five million isforced to live under some of the weirdest laws of our times. Two months ago he used another television appearance to ban beards and long hair for men. Opera and ballet are not allowed, because Mr Niyazov decided they were unnecessary. He has changed street names in Ashgabat to numbers, and forced his ministers to take part in a 36km "health walk"...