On December 28, 1999, President Saparmurat Niazov had himself appointed “leader and president for life” by the country’s parliament. The legislature, whose fifty members are for all intents and purposes the president’s nominees, unanimously passed a constitutional amendment extending Niazov’s presidential term indefinitely. Niazov, 59, has headed Turkmenistan since 1985, when he became first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Elected president of the Turkmen SSR in 1990 with 98 percent of the vote in an unopposed race, Niazov had his term extended by referendum after independence in 1992. In 1994 he eked out 99 percent of the vote in a referendum to extend his term to 2003…. On January 1, Turkmenistan officially switched from the Cyrillic to the Roman alphabet. The change, which Niazov ordered by decree, is intended to encourage greater cultural exchange and closer relations with linguistically similar Turkey, which adopted the Latin alphabet in the 1920s.