DUSHANBE, December 21, Asia-Plus – Turkmenistan''s President Saparmurat Niyazov, who ruled the gas-rich Central Asian country for 20 years, has died aged 66, government source said.  

"It happened overnight. The president has died," the source said.  He gave no further information.

Saparmurat Niyazov became Turkmenistan''s Communist Party chief in 1985.  In 1991 he was elected the first president of independent Turkmenistan.  In 1999 the supreme legislative body made him president-for-life.

His name has been given to a sea port, farms, military units and even to a meteorite.

A Reuters correspondent in the Turkmen capital said the situation was calm but workers were seen removing New Year decorations from fir trees in the streets.

Niyazov had publicly acknowledged that he was taking medication for a heart condition.