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Turkmenistan's interim leader to stand for presidency on Feb. 11

Turkmenistan's interim leader to stand for presidency on Feb. 11

Turkmenistan's main legislative body rewrote the country's constitution Tuesday to allow the country's interim leader _ in power for less than a week _ to succeed the late authoritarian leader.
Acting President Gurbungali Berdymukhamedov and five other candidates won approval to participate in the Feb. 11 presidential election to replace longtime leader Saparmurat Niyazov, who ruled the isolated Central Asian nation for 21 years with an iron grip until his death last week.
Berdymukhamedov was nominated by Ondzhik Musayev, the leader of the country's only political party, the Democratic Party. The five other approved candidates are a deputy energy minister, two town mayors, one deputy regional governor and one district head _ little-known politicians apparently seen as necessary to create an appearance of a pluralistic election.
Election Chief Murad Kariyev backed Berdymukhamedov's nomination and said he will "do everything to make him president because he is a worthy successor."
The decision to amend the constitution was made by the People's Council, about 2,500 lawmakers who were either elected or appointed.
After Berdymukhamedov's candidacy got unanimous approval, he pledged to preserve the country's "stability and peace" and "our ancient democratic traditions" that he said were revived by Niyazov.
Berdymukhamedov said last week that the presidential election would be held "on a democratic basis that has been laid by the great leader" _ seen as an indication that Turkmenistan does not plan a free vote.
Under the existing constitution, the acting president was not allowed to run for the full office _ but the People's Council changed the constitution to clear his candidacy.
The council selected candidates out of nominees proposed by representatives of the country's five regions and the capital Ashgabat.
Opposition leaders living abroad have failed in attempts to return to Turkmenistan following Niyazov's death.
Questions about how closely the constitutional procedures would be followed arose within hours of the announcement of Niyazov's death. The constitution says the speaker of Parliament should become acting president, but the role was taken by Berdymukhamedov, the deputy prime minister, and a criminal case was opened against the Parliament speaker.
Berdymukhamedov's unexpected rise to acting president prompted speculation of an internal power struggle.
Election Chief Kariyev told the council on Tuesday that the election will be fair and open to foreign observers. He also said that transparent ballot boxes would be used in the vote.
Stability in Turkmenistan is of interest to both the West and Russia. Turkmenistan has enormous natural gas reserves and occupies a geographically strategic position, bordering both Afghanistan and Iran.