Horse-mad Turkmenistan claims to break strange world record

Anton Lomov
A picture taken in August 2017 shows men walking towards the Olympic stadium, with the 40.05-metres tall (131.4 feet) horse head sculpture seen on top of the venue, in Ashgabat

Turkmenistan claimed Tuesday that the Central Asian country had broken a niche world record by building the world's "largest horse head sculpture" ahead of a sporting event it is preparing to host.

On Tuesday, state newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan carried a report claiming that the Guinness World Records body had awarded it two certificates for "largest horse head sculpture" and "largest aquatic sports park".

The newspaper's website published photos of what appeared to be two Guinness certificates recognising the achievements.

Both the horse head sculpture and the swimming pools are in the part of the capital, Ashgabat, where the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games are to be held in September.

An AFP correspondent in Ashgabat saw the horse head -- officially 40.05-metres tall (131.4 feet) -- bathed in violet light on top of the country's new Olympic stadium.

The games, backed by the Olympic Council of Asia, have become a central theme in state propaganda and the government has spent heavily on sporting infrastructure despite an economic crisis linked to low prices for natural gas, a main export.

Guinness did not immediately respond to a request to confirm the records.

The certificate posted on Neutral Turkmenistan's website says there are 4,976.65 square metres of swimming pools in the Ashgabat Olympic complex, which combined constitute the world's "largest aquatic sports park".

AFP's correspondent in Ashgabat has not been able to view the swimming pools, as access to the Olympic village is tightly controlled.

Turkmenistan has claimed a number of obscure Guinness records under its strongman leader, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. In 2015 the country beat a record held by Google for the most people "singing in a round".

The choir of 4,166 people sang "Forward, Forward, My Dear Country Turkmenistan", supposedly composed by Berdymukhamedov, in a tightly choreographed show of state unity.

In 2013 Ashgabat claimed a record for having the highest density of white marble-clad buildings.

The year before it was recognised as having the world's largest ferris wheel in an enclosed space.

Berdymukhamedov, a former dentist, came to power in 2006 following the death of Saparmurat Niyazov, described as "the father of the Turkmen", and set about reducing signs of his predecessor's bizarre cult of personality -- and creating space for his own.

In 2015 the government unveiled a gold-leaf statue of Berdymukhamedov on horseback in Ashgabat, echoing an effigy to Niyazov in the centre of the capital that once rotated to follow the sun's movements

That statue has since been moved to the suburbs.