Turkmenistan's state news agency said the passenger jet had been custom-built for Niyazov, who headed the Communist Party in the former Soviet republic and has been president since independence in 1990.

Niyazov, who calls himself Turkmenbashi (the head of all Turkmens), rules with an extensive cult of personality rivalling that of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il.

"The aircraft has been equipped with the latest communication systems to keep the head of state abreast of all developments and allow him to lead the country when he is abroad," the news agency said.

The wide-body aircraft was financed with the hard-currency reserves of the largely desert Central Asian republic, a top producer of natural gas.

Niyazov has renamed the month of January after himself and ordered school children to study his own home-spun philosophy book.

Thousands of statues of Niyazov dot the country, the most garish of which is a 12-metre-high gold Turkmenbashi statue perched on a 75-metre pillar that rotates to face the sun.