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Turkmenistan's Leader Says Country  Could Hold Presidential Elections in 2006 - 2003-08-15


Turkmenistan's leader Saparmurad Niyazov, who had declared himself president for life, now says he doesn't intend to stay in power for the rest of his life, and even offers to move up the next presidential election. But Mr. Nayazov's promise is not being taken seriously.

President Saparmurad Niyazov said Thursday he plans to hold a presidential election in 2007, a year earlier than he had previously announced. He even declared for the first time Wednesday that he may not remain in power for the rest of his life.

Known as Turkmenbashi or Chief of the Turkmens, the often unpredictable Mr. Niyazov runs an authoritarian state with the assistance of a hand-picked People's Council. That council proclaimed him president for life in 1999.

Alexei Maleshenko, who is with the Carnegie Institute for Peace in Moscow, does not take Mr. Niyazov seriously. "In principle it doesn't change the situation," he said. "Who can imagine that he will resign, he will leave. It's just words, only words - propaganda."

Mr. Maleshenko says that Turkmenistan is more repressive today than it was when Turkmenistan was part of the former Soviet Union. He says Mr. Niyazov's comments were likely intended to defuse criticism from abroad.

Human rights groups have long charged Mr. Niyazov 's government with curtailing political freedoms, jailing opponents and reducing the freedom of movement by imposing exit visas.

School children in Turkmenistan are obligated to study the president's sayings, and he had even officially changed one month of the year after himself and another after his mother.

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