An opposition group in Turkmenistan says its candidate for next year's presidential elections is missing.

Officials of the Agzybirlik People's Democratic Movement say the group's leader, Nurberdy Nurmammedov, has not been seen since he left his home in the country's capital Ashgabat December 23. That was the day he expressed hope to journalists that democracy will prevail in Turkmenistan.

On Wednesday, the United States urged a free, fair and open election in Turkmenistan to replace the country's late authoritarian president, Saparmurat Niyazov.

A State Department spokesman, Gonzalo Gallegos, said the United States wants to see a new president who represents the aspirations and protects the fundamental rights of all the people of Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan's top legislative body, The People's Council, has set February 11 as the date for the vote.