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The circus comes to town, after a nine-year ban

Nine years after Turkmenistan's late leader banned the big top, the circus yesterday returned to the Central Asian nation.

Hundreds of children lined up outside a renovated Soviet-era arena in the capital, Ashgabat, for their first visit to the circus, a form of entertainment the eccentric autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov prohibited as "alien". Niyazov, who ruled Turkmenistan for 21 years until his death in 2006, also banned the cinema, opera, ballet, lip-synching and even gold teeth.

His successor, President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, pictured above attending yesterday's opening show, hailed it as a "state-level event". Ballet, however, still remains banned in the country.