Niyazov's Statue Will Fall

APA gilded statue of Saparmurat Niyazov above Ashgabat's Neutrality Arch.
ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- Turkmenistan's leader has ordered the removal of a giant golden statue of his late predecessor from downtown Ashgabat, the Turkmen capital.

Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov told a Cabinet meeting Friday that the statue of Saparmurat Niyazov should be relocated to the southern outskirts of the city, the state-run Neutralny Turkmenistan daily reported Saturday.

The statue, nearly 12 meters high, tops a 20-story tower and rotates to always face the sun.

Niyazov, who preferred to be called Turkmenbashi, or Father of All Turkmen, ruled the Central Asian nation for 21 years and developed an extravagant personality cult.

Niyazov also renamed days of the week and months of the year after himself and his parents. He ordered statues of himself to be erected throughout the nation. And he wrote several poetry books, as well as the Rukhnama -- a code of moral guidelines that became required reading for schoolchildren and government officials alike.

He died in December 2006 at age 66.

Berdymukhammedov, a former health minister, also has issued coins with his portrait and published books of his speeches -- developments seen by some as the start of a new a personality cult.

Also Friday, Berdymukhammedov ordered an amnesty for more than 900 prisoners, who will be released May 9. That is the anniversary of the World War II victory over Nazi Germany, which is widely celebrated in former Soviet republics.

Last year, Berdymukhammedov granted amnesty to about 9,000 prison inmates, including 11 people convicted of involvement in a 2002 attempt on Niyazov's life. About 50 others remain in custody on the same charges.