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US Urges Free, Fair and Open Turkmenistan Election


The United States Wednesday urged a free, fair and open election in Turkmenistan to replace authoritarian president Saparamat Niyazov, who died last week. The parliament of the Central Asian country has approved a six-member slate of candidates but none from the exiled opposition. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The State Department is avoiding direct criticism of the succession plan approved by the parliament Tuesday.

But it says the United States wants to see free elections in Turkmenistan and a new president who represents the aspirations of all the country's people.

The U.S. comments came a day after Turkmenistan's legislature, controlled by loyalists of the late president, approved a slate of six candidates to run in a February 11 election, led by caretaker president Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.

The list excluded opposition figures who fled the country during President Niyazov's 15 years of iron-fisted rule, and drew criticism from exile groups.

Asked about the decision, acting State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos told reporters the United States wants to see an election that meets international standards and in which all the country's people can take part.

"We would like to see a free, fair and open election that meets international standards, and for the new president to be ready and willing to represent the aspirations, and protect the fundamental rights of all the people of Turkmenistan," said Gallegos. "This is up to them to decide. We encourage the interim government to ensure that the people can participate fully in the election process."

The United States was a frequent critic of human rights abuses in Turkmenistan under President Niyazov, who ran the country from its independence in 1991 and was named president-for-life by the parliament in 2003.

The late president monopolized power, and all candidates who ran for parliament in the country's last election in 2004 were members of his Democratic Party, the only legally recognized party in the country.

Since he died of a heart attack December 21, U.S. officials have expressed hope for improved ties with the energy-rich Central Asian state.

Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher attended the Niyazov funeral and met with the country's interim leaders last week.

Boucher told reporters in the capital, Ashkhabad, that whatever one thought about Mr. Niyazov, the United States is now open to the possibility of a new beginning in the relationship.

News reports said interim leader Berdymukhamedov was the only candidate who received a unanimous vote from the parliament Tuesday, suggesting he is being positioned to succeed the late president.

Exile groups meeting in Ukraine this week chose an opposition leader, Khudaiberdy Orazov, to run for president, but it is unclear if he will be allowed to return to Turkmenistan to contest the vote. They appealed to the United States and European Union to press for a genuinely open election.