* President says satellite dishes spoil skyline
* Switch to cable TV could restrict channels
ASHGABAT, Aug 16 (Reuters) - 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 channels.
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)