President of Turkmenistan orders forest planted in his desert nation¤

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov ordered a forest planted to change his desert nation's climate the latest of the autocratic leader's elaborate projects that include an artificial lake and an ice palace.

Niyazov said that the new "millennial" cypress forest will cover an area of 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles).

"The climate will improve considerably if we do that," Niyazov told a Cabinet meeting that was televised Tuesday. "The archa, a kind of cypress tree, lives a thousand years. This will be a millennial forest."

He said that each ministry will have an allocated area where it will have to plant a certain number of trees within three years. The 20-kilometer (12-mile) -wide and 50-kilometer (31-mile) -long forest outside the capital Ashgabat must grow by 2015, Niyazov said.

Niyazov also ordered that the construction of an artificial lake in the middle of the Kara Kum desert that began in 2001 be sped up.

"We need to finish the construction of the Turkmen lake and start filling it with water. This will change the flora, nature and boost livestock breeding," he said.

Desert covers 80 percent of Turkmenistan 's territory and summer temperatures reach 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).

An ice palace is being built near the capital under Niyazov's orders. Last year he expressed an interest in building a ski resort.

Niyazov, who has led Turkmenistan since 1985, has established a cult of personality around himself, reports the AP.


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