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Turkmenistan Will Hold Presidential Election In February

FILE - President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow attends a news conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Aug. 29, 2016.

Turkmenistan will hold a presidential vote on February 12, state media reported.

The announcement comes a month after Turkmenistan passed constitutional changes that removed barriers to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s lifelong rule.

The election date was approved Saturday by the Turkmen parliament.

The amendments, signed by Berdymukhammedov last month after approval by the rubber-stamp parliament and the Council of Elders on September 14, scrap a rule that barred anyone over 70 from presidential ballots in the tightly controlled Central Asian country.

They also extend future presidential terms to seven years, from the current five.

State news agency TDH said that the Democratic Party, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, and the Agrarian Party would all present their own presidential candidates.

ll three parties strongly support Berdymukhammedov's rule.

Berdymukhammedov, 59, won elections by landslides in 2007 and 2012 after coming to power following the death of Sapurmurat Niyazov in late 2006.

Gas-rich Turkmenistan is one of the most isolated countries in the world and has never held an election that was deemed fair and democratic by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Rights groups say dissent is not tolerated, government critics are routinely jailed or placed in psychiatric hospitals, and the country has no independent media.