I'm no poster boy: President demands removal of images

Tajikistan leader says any use of his photograph must receive prior approval

In a region not known for the modesty of its presidents, Tajikistan's Emomali Rahmon has issued an unusual edict: he wants all of his portraits taken down immediately. Local officials in the poverty-stricken country will now need prior approval before hanging posters, photographs or even carpets that feature Mr Rahmon's image.

According to Mr Rahmon, the personality cult in the country has got out of hand and from now on, any official or public venue wishing to hang a photograph of the President must clear it with his office first. Most irritating of all, said Mr Rahmon, were the local officials who hung pictures of themselves together with the President, trying to bask in reflected glory. Portraits of Mr Rahmon, with his puffy face and swept-back shock of dyed-black hair, adorn government offices and billboards across the country.

"In order to prevent showing-off in the ranks and eliminate misunderstandings among the population, I order that portraits and carpets with the images of local officials together with the President of Tajikistan be removed from all offices, public places and from along roads," said Mr Rahmon in a directive. He also asked authorities to remove "thank you notes" left by citizens at public monuments, expressing their gratitude to the President.

It is unclear whether his edict is part of a genuine effort to reduce the cult of personality that has flourished in the country, or simply a desire to stop local officials muscling in on his limelight. A glance at Mr Rahmon's official website suggests that the President has not had a sudden attack of shyness.

The site features several books that he penned, one on the history of Tajiks, and one five-volume thriller entitled Independent Tajikistan and the Rebirth of the Nation, which are recommended reading for all Tajiks. A further 22 hagiographical books by other authors are displayed on the website, all of which feature Mr Rahmon on the cover.

Tajikistan, a mountainous country bordering Afghanistan and China, is the poorest of the 15 independent countries that emerged from the rubble of the Soviet Union. More than half of the country's working-age men travel to Russia to find seasonal work in low-paid menial jobs. The country still suffers from the legacy of a vicious civil war in the 1990s, from which Mr Rahmon emerged as President.

Critics accuse Mr Rahmon's government of overseeing institutionalised fraud and corruption. More than $1bn (£650m) was siphoned off from the National Bank's funds, according to an audit by Ernst & Young, and loaned to people close to the bank's leadership. The funds totalled an amount close to the country's entire annual budget.

Mr Rahmon used to be known as Mr Rahmonov, but in 2007 he dropped the Russified suffix. He issued a decree stating that from then on, it was illegal for newborn Tajiks to use surnames ending in -ov or -ev, which many people in the country had used since Tsarist times. He also introduced limits on the number of guests allowed to attend weddings and banned schoolchildren from using mobile phones.

The personality cult: Political idols

*Turkmenistan

Saparmurat Niyazov, better known as Turkmenbashi, built giant gold monuments to himself and renamed months of the year after members of his family. His successor, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, promised reform but has established his own cult.



*Belarus

Alexander Lukashenko is known as "the last dictator in Europe". Mr Lukashenko tolerates little opposition and has said that he is grooming his youngest son, five-year-old Nikolai, to take over from him.

*Uzbekistan

The steely-faced Islam Karimov presides over one of the most unpleasant regimes in the world. Internationally isolated after troops shot dead hundreds of peaceful protesters in 2005.



*Kalmykia

An arid chunk of Russia on the Caspian Sea, Kalymkia is ruled by the chess-mad Buddhist dictator Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. President of the world chess body FIDE, he built "Chess City" at a reported cost of $50m. Claims to have been abducted by aliens who dressed him in a yellow spacesuit.

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