The president of Turkmenistan says he will now permit operas and circuses to be performed, reversing a decision by his predecessor to ban those forms of expression.

President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov says his country is becoming increasingly developed and should, therefore, welcome such artistic performances, state-run television reported Sunday.

"Our flourishing nation should not stand separate from the world," Berdymukhamedov told a group of leading intellectuals at a meeting Saturday. "It absolutely should have a worthy operatic theatre and a worthy state circus."

The ban was imposed in 2001 by then-president Saparmurat Niyazov. Niyazov criticized opera and ballet as being foreign to Turkmen culture, and allowed funding for state-sponsored circuses to dry up.

Niyazov instituted many other restrictive laws such as travel inside the country, internet access and teaching foreign languages at schools. He reduced the number of years children went to school, which were not enough to qualify them for foreign universities.

Niyazov, who ruled for 20 years and died in 2006, crushed dissent and instituted an immense personality cult.

Berdymukhamedov has since eased some of Niyazov's draconian policies. He has welcomed outside investment and allowed the exchange of foreign currencies.

In his televised comments, Berdymukhamedov estimated the first opera would be performed in six or seven months but he did not mention whether ballet would also be part of the new policy.

With files from the Associated Press