The announcement came following a decision by President Saparmurat Niyazov who did not want animals to take away the sweet smell of dahlias named after the eccentric president-for-life.

All livestock will be banned from the city and households will only be allowed to keep one "cat or dog or decorative bird", following the president’s announcement to beautify the capital with a new variety of dahlia named "President Turkmenbashi" (father of the Turkmens).

The new dahlias, which are to be planted along Ashkhabad's well maintained avenues, were named after Niyazov in recognition of his "great contribution to the stability of the Asian region and the whole world", the official Neitralny Turkmenistan daily reported.

"I bought this camel when my grandchildren were born so that she'd provide them with milk. It's much tastier and healthier than what you get in the shops," said a resident who said his name was Ogulkurban.

"She's my pet and I could never eat her. We'll have to take her to relatives in the countryside if necessary."

Few dare openly criticise Niyazov, an eccentric autocrat who has ordered golden statues and images of himself placed all over the city after having himself proclaimed president-for-life in 1999.

Nina, 65, said she would eat her five chickens if the worst came to the worst.

Citizens are only permitted to own
one pet, following the president's
decision

Despite the enthusiasm of Ashkhabad’s policies for similar recent laws, such as a ban on smoking in public places, or while driving, some residents hope they can find a way around the livestock ban. Current fines for offences equal the $30 monthly minimum wage.

Economic malaise

Basic foodstuffs and utility bills are heavily subsidised in the gas-rich desert republic but even in Ashkhabad many depend on domestic livestock such as camel, sheep, goats, chickens and ducks.

Joblessness is widespread and pensions amount to around $40 per month.

The city's manicured avenues give little indication of the "climate of terror and fear" described in a recent report commissioned by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Hundreds of people, including children and the elderly, were detained after an alleged coup attempt against Niyazov last November.

The authorities said the families of "betrayers of the Motherland" no longer had the "moral right" to live in Ashkhabad and should be deported, the OSCE report said.