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Turkmenistan sets rules for presidential elections

Turkmenistan sets rules for presidential elections

The Turkmen government announced new election rules Thursday that suggest presidential polls in February to replace the late authoritarian leader will be strictly controlled by the authorities.
The new election law, published in state-controlled media, said the six candidates chosen earlier this week by Turkmenistan's top legislative body will have the right to meet voters and to address them through the media, but stipulated their campaigns can be funded only from the state budget.
The law, which was adopted by the People's Council on Tuesday, also said the candidates' meetings with voters must be organized by local authorities, signaling that they will be subject to official control.
The move dimmed hopes for reform following the death last week of Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan's president for life, after 21 years of unchallenged rule.
Niyazov, who called himself Turkmenbashi _ Father of All Turkmen _ tolerated no dissent and cultivated an all-encompassing personality cult.
Meanwhile, interim leader and presidential candidate Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov, who has emerged as Niyazov's heir apparent, said all the candidates must be provided with "all conditions for a successful campaign and guaranteed equal rights and opportunities." The other five candidates are little-known officials.
Berdymukhamedov is seen as a likely presidential successor, after the People's Council _ a 2,500-strong assembly of hand-picked officials and elders _ amended the Constitution to allow him to run and unanimously backed his candidacy.
Election chief Murad Kariyev promised Tuesday that he would "do everything" to make sure Berdymukhamedov wins "because he is a worthy candidate."
The new election law also said that foreign and local observers as well as journalists can monitor voting and vote-counting.
Also Thursday, U.S. State Secretary Condoleezza Rice expressed hope that after Niyazov's death "we can turn a page in our relations to advance a stable, democratic and prosperous future for Turkmenistan," according to a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat.
The exiled opposition said Wednesday its candidate for president, Nurberdy Nurmammedov, was arrested in the capital Ashgabat on Saturday.
Turkmens last elected a president in 1992, giving Niyazov 95.5 percent of their votes.
The desert nation, a major supplier of natural gas to Russia and Europe, lies north of Afghanistan and Iran. It is part of Central Asia, a predominantly Muslim region where several post-Soviet regimes face the threat of Islamic radicalism.