* President says satellite dishes spoil skyline
* Switch to cable TV could restrict channels
ASHGABAT, Aug 16 Turkmenistan's leader ordered
on Tuesday the removal of satellite dishes from apartment blocks
in a move that could restrict access to foreign television
channels in the reclusive Central Asian state.
President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, whose word is final in
the former Soviet republic of 5.4 million, instructed his
government to install cable television to replace the dishes
that crowd the walls and roofs of many buildings in Ashgabat.
"Numerous television aerials installed on the roofs and
facades of houses reflect negatively on the capital's
architectural appearance," Berdymukhamedov said in comments
published by state newspaper Neitralny (Neutral) Turkmenistan.
Satellite dishes battle for roof space on three- and
four-storey apartment blocks in the older neighbourhoods of
Ashgabat, where residents say they can tune in to more than 700
Berdymukhamedov first proposed their removal in 2007, the
first year of his presidency, although the project was shelved.
Residents at the time expressed concern that access to foreign
channels would be restricted.
Satellite television is one of the few means by which
residents of Turkmenistan can access independent channels in a
country dominated by state media.
An official at the Ministry of Communications, who declined
to be identified, said cable television would be installed free
of charge and that a basic package would include the channels
already transmitted by four satellites.
Berdymukhamedov has promised more economic freedom in
Turkmenistan, holder of the world's fourth-largest natural gas
reserves, as it seeks closer ties with the West following its
isolation under previous leader Saparmurat Niyazov.
But he still enjoys virtually unlimited powers in a country
that ranked near the bottom of the 2010 press freedom index
compiled by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders. Only
Eritrea and North Korea scored worse.
(Reporting by Marat Gurt; Writing by Robin Paxton)