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ASHGABAT (Turkmenistan): In an extraordinary construction boom, the isolated Central Asian country of Turkmenistan is spending billions of dollars on remodelling its capital Ashgabat into a gleaming white showpiece where even the kerbs are made of marble.

The gas-rich desert country says that the massive spending spree has already poured in $8 billion in international investment and 4 trillion manats ($1.9 billion) of its own funds since gaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

“We are directing the profit from gas exports into improving the quality of life of our people,” President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said.

Turkmenistan, on the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea, claims to have the world’s fourth-biggest supplies of natural gas with estimated reserves of more than 24 trillion cubic metres, according to BP.

With a population of one million, the city is now a giant construction site as the government demolishes large areas of low-rise brick buildings from the Soviet era.

All new buildings for ministries, government agencies and also new apartment blocks are being faced with marble, giving the city the nickname: “White City”.

The epoch of magnificence: The 55-year-old president, a dentist by profession, has even ordered that the concrete curbs on central avenues and streets be replaced with marble ones.

“In this epoch of magnificence and happiness, our respected president has given us the task of developing the city to create the most comfortable conditions for people’s life,” boasted the city’s chief architect, Bairam Shamuradov. The gleaming facades contrast with the rights record of a country described as “one of the world’s most repressive” by Human Rights Watch.

Berdymukhamedov picked up the gauntlet from his late predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, who unveiled a revolving gold statue of himself.

Elected after Niyazov’s 2006 death, Berdymukhamedov last year opened a covered ferris wheel that towers to a height of 95 metres atop a leisure centre.

In 2011, he unveiled a 185-metre-high monument to the Constitution that cost 45 million euros ($60 million), decorated with carpet motifs, which has been heralded as the local answer to the Eiffel Tower.—AFP