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Turkmenistan sets presidential poll for Feb 12

05 august 2011, 17:06
The President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. ©RIA Novosti
The President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. ©RIA Novosti
Tightly controlled Turkmenistan will hold presidential elections on February 12, state media announced Friday, a month after the government said the banned opposition could run in the polls, AFP reports.

The date was set by parliament, reported the Neutralny Turkmenistan newspaper, the government mouthpiece in the isolated and energy-rich ex-Soviet Central Asian state of 5.1 million people.

In practice, no opposition groups are allowed to operate in the desert nation where the government rigidly controls all flows of information.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov unexpectedly announced a month ago that the opposition was welcome to return and take part in the 2012 polls.

But opposition leaders abroad met the promise of "equal conditions for all candidates" with scepticism and it appears unlikely they will return, given they fear being immediately imprisoned.

Berdymukhamedov's surprise announcement came a day after mystery blasts rocked the outskirts of the capital that the opposition said claimed hundreds of lives.

The government blamed the blasts on July 7 in Abadan, a town about 20 kilometres (15 miles) outside Ashgabat, on fireworks depot fire that spread to a nearby munitions dump. It said 15 people were killed.

In 2010 the government officially ended the era of the single-party state, but critics said the move carried little real change.

Turkmenistan was until 2006 ruled by its first president Saparmurat Niyazov, who placed gold statues and busts of himself throughout the country.

The previous presidential elections in 2007 -- deemed neither free nor fair by the international observers -- were held to replace Niyazov after his unexpected death.

His successor, former dentist Berdymukhamedov, has taken gradual steps to remove some of the more striking features of the dictator's rule but critics have said the moves have been largely cosmetic.

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