Source Pravda.Ru

Turkmenistan votes for new president amind opposition protests

Turkmenistan's exiled opposition groups said Monday they will not recognize the result of a tightly controlled election to replace late President Saparmurat Niyazov, calling the poll undemocratic.

Nearly 100 percent of voters in this ex-Soviet republic cast ballots Sunday in a one-party election without foreign monitors.

It was the Turkmenistan's first presidential vote with more than one candidate but the clear favorite - acting President Gurnabguli Berdymukhamedov - and his five opponents, little-known officials, are all are members of the country's only legal political party.

Election officials said preliminary results would be announced Tuesday.

The United Democratic Opposition of Turkmenistan, representing several opposition groups whose leaders live in exile, said in a Web-posted statement that the vote was illegal and should not be recognized.

Exiled opposition figures have not been able to return to Turkmenistan since Niyazov's death Dec. 21 and many foreign journalists were denied visas to cover the election.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe did not send an election-monitoring mission, nor did the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose grouping of former Soviet republics.

However, Goran Lennmarker, chairman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, told reporters in the capital Ashgabat on Saturday that the vote was "a step ... in the development of your democracy."

The state Turkmen Press news agency called the vote "a true national holiday" that demonstrated "Turkmens' civil maturity." Russia's NTV television showed footage of Turkmens enjoying festivities, singing folk songs and performing traditional dances to celebrate the election.

Niyazov - who fostered an extensive personality cult, calling himself Turkmenbashi, or Father of All Turkmen - still dominates the country's psyche nearly two months after his death. At a polling station in Niyazov's hometown of Kipchak, his portrait was on all the walls.

Berdymukhamedov, by contrast, has kept a low profile, though he startled observers with a series of remarks including a promise to allow unrestricted Internet access for all Turkmens, support for entrepreneurship, social reforms and a widening of educational opportunities.

But Berdymukhamedov, who also holds the title of deputy prime minister, has not spoken of political reform, the AP reports.

Turkmenistan is of substantial interest to Russia and the West because of its enormous natural gas reserves - and its status as a stable, neutral country bordering Iran and Afghanistan.

Associated Press writer Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.

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