Turkmens Get Book-Shaped School

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- Turkmen authorities opened a book-shaped school Tuesday to celebrate the birthday of Saparmurat Niyazov, their late leader who fostered a personality cult.

The school was named after his "Rukhnama," a tome that the man who took the title of Turkmenbashi demanded that the population of 5 million learn by heart.

Niyazov, an autocrat who banned gold teeth and renamed the month of April after his mother, ruled from independence in 1991 until his death in 2006.

The "Rukhnama," also called "The Book of the Soul," is still a must-read for schoolchildren and part of the national driving exam. The book is a collection of moral advice and history.

Niyazov's birthday, Feb. 19, remains an official holiday, though it now operates under the name Flag Day.

Niyazov's successor, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, has vowed to open up the isolated state and carry out liberal reforms. He has lifted some restrictions on travel, taken steps to reform legislation and ended a seven-year ban on opera and circus performances.

In a sign of change, the school Berdymukhammedov opened Tuesday will focus on sciences and not the spiritual guide it was named after.