Turkmenistan has revealed the first gold-leafed statue of the country's president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who is officially titled "Arkadag" (The Patron) and accused of grave human right violations in his isolated but resource-rich country.
He, like his predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov who had many golden statues erected across Turkmenistan, has been building a cult of personality with poems to his name and renaming days or years after himself or members of his family. He has also named streets and organisations, even a police unit, after his parents.
The 21-meter monument cast in bronze and covered in 24-carat gold leaf, riding atop a horse and mounted over 20 metres from the ground on a white marble cliff. He is portrayed as carrying a dove.
Turkmen officials say the monument, which was unveiled in the capital Ashgabat on Monday, was produced as the result of "public demand," in a country where no dissident voice is allowed.
Berdymukhamedov is also the prime minister and commander-in-chief of Turkmenistan with sweeping powers and large portraits hanging on every wall in government buildings.
Students chanted "Glory to Arkadag!" during the opening ceremony of the statue, Reuters reported.
Human rights groups have widely documented repressive and authoritarian policies in the Central Asian country which holds the world's fourth-largest reserves of natural gas, but the Western world has turned a blind eye, seeing Turkmenistan as an alternative source to Russian gas.
Human Rights Watch said in 2014 that dozens of people have disappeared in Turkmenistan, some for more than a decade, after they were detained. No one has heard from them for years, and sometimes their relatives who campaign for any kind of information share the same fate.
Berdymukhamedov has ruled Turkmenistan since 2006 and won the country’s 2012 elections with 97 percent of the vote.
He is known for his love of horses and has promoted Turkmenistan’s famous Akhal-Teke breed, writing a book about them and taking part in horse races. He was seen stumbling in a race in 2013’s "Day of the Horse" celebrations, despite efforts to seize all video recordings of the incident.