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Turkmenistan Claims High Voter Turnout

February 12, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Authorities in Turkmenistan say more than 98 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the country's presidential election on February 11, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported.

However, RFE/RL correspondents in Turkmenistan have disputed the claims of high turnout in the election saying voting activity appeared lower.

The election was held to choose a replacement for the late President Saparmurat Niyazov, who ruled the country for more than two decades. Six men officially competed for the post in the first multi-candidate elections in Turkmenistan's history. All are members of the country's only legal political party.

Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who took power after Niyazov died of heart failure in December, has been a prominent fixture in state-controlled media and was widely regarded as the front-runner.

Authorities have scheduled the inauguration of the new president for February 14.

No international organizations formally monitored the election, and human rights groups and Turkmen opposition groups have condemned the election process as neither free nor fair.

Russia's RIA-Novosti news agency quoted an exiled opposition figure, Watan (Homeland) party leader Hudayberdi Orazow, as saying, "We have quite enough evidence from Turkmenistan confirming that voters were much less active than claimed by the Central Electoral Commission."

Some foreign diplomats, however, said they were hopeful that the multicandidate vote, despite its flaws, could lead to gradual change and reform in what most regard as Central Asia's most-closed society.

(compiled from agency reports)

(RFE/RL 12.ii.07)

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