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A Golden Statue for Turkmenistan Leader’s Favorite Dog

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Some pet lovers buy treats for their favorite animals. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov of Turkmenistan has taken that a step further, unveiling a 19-foot-tall sculpture of a golden-colored dog to honor his favorite breed, the Central Asian shepherd.

The monument to the dog, tail aloft and head held high, was erected on a pedestal at the center of a traffic circle in the capital, Ashgabat, the state news agency of Turkmenistan said, adding that it reflected the breed’s “pride and self-confidence.”

The statue was unveiled Wednesday in a ceremony complete with exuberant singers and twirling dancers, clouds of colored balloons, and a wraparound television screen on the statue’s base beaming out images of the dogs — the breed is known locally as Alabai — in action, according to footage released on YouTube by the state broadcaster Altyn Asyr.

An Alabai puppy, held by a young child, also made an appearance as Mr. Berdymukhammedov, an autocrat who rules over one of the world’s most repressive governments, watched with evident pride.

Mr. Berdymukhammedov’s love for the Alabai, which has come to symbolize national pride and power, has long been documented. Last year, he released a book about the breed, including a poem he reportedly wrote during a cabinet meeting. At the book’s launch, participants sang songs in honor of the dog in a packed hall.

The president’s son, Serdar Berdymukhammedov, widely seen as a potential successor, is the chair of the Turkmen Alabai Association, which held its first international meeting in August. The government said this month that it was preparing to nominate the dog for inclusion on UNESCO’s World Heritage list as a cultural asset.

The Alabai has traditionally been used for protection and to guard livestock, and can be found across Central Asia in countries like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

The dog statue was unveiled as part of a package of new infrastructure in western Ashgabat, the state news agency said, which also included several high-rise residential buildings and a shopping center.

Mr. Berdymukhammedov, a former dentist who became president in a 2007 election that international observers said was rigged after the death of the nation’s longtime dictator, Saparmurat Niyazov, has a flair for dramatic displays. He has propaganda videos boasting of his athletic prowess and military skill — including one of him shooting a gun.

Dogs are not the only animals that have captured his heart: He also has an affinity for the Akhal-Teke horse, a Turkmen breed known for its physical capabilities and golden sheen. That breed has already been memorialized; in 2015, the Turkmen leader unveiled a 69-foot-high gold statue of himself riding an Akhal-Teke.

The opulent monuments stand in stark contrast with the everyday lives of many in a country that remains impoverished despite rich reserves of natural gas that it largely exports to China.

Mr. Berdymukhammedov rules the country, which gained independence from Soviet rule in 1991, with an autocratic hand, controlling all media and punishing unsanctioned forms of religious and political expression.

Western human rights organizations are banned from Turkmenistan, and Human Rights Watch calls it “one of the most repressive and closed countries in the world.”

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