Fancy Medal Unveiled for Foreigners

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- An extravagant gold and diamond medal was unveiled Friday to honor late Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, who died a year ago after two decades of eccentric rule.

Known as the "Turkmenbashi the Great, First President of Turkmenistan Medal," the decoration is to be awarded to senior foreign visitors for their achievements, state media reported.

Niyazov called himself Turkmenbashi, or Father of All Turkmen, and ruled Turkmenistan through an authoritarian personality cult for 21 years. He named a month, a seaport and a number of towns after himself.

The medal is encrusted with 32 diamonds and sports a gilded profile of Niyazov.

While stressing his loyalty to Niyazov, the new president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, has sought to soften the country's image -- and has removed a logo featuring Niyazov's profile from state television and most banknotes.