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Voting in Ashgabat on February 11 (ITAR-TASS) February 13, 2007 -- Authorities in Turkmenistan are expected today to issue the results of an election to replace President Saparmurat Niyazov, who ruled this energy-rich Central Asian entity for more than two decades.


Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who became acting president after Niyazov died in December, has been widely expected to emerge as the winner.


Berdymukhammedov and five little-known candidates -- all from Turkmenistan's only legal party -- were on the ballot in the February 11 vote.


Turkmen authorities have announced that nearly 99 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the election.


The inauguration ceremony for the victor is due to take place on February 14.


Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili are among the foreign dignitaries who are due to arrive in Ashgabat later today to attend the inauguration ceremony.


The United Democratic Opposition of Turkmenistan, whose leaders live in exile, has called the vote illegal and said it should not be recognized. Exiled opposition figures were not permitted to return to Turkmenistan to participate in the vote.


Foreign diplomats have said that while the election failed to meet Western standards for fairness, the vote could nevertheless mark a step toward democratic reform in Turkmenistan.


(compiled from agency reports)

Turkmenistan's Presidential Election

A billboard in Ashgabat with portraits of the candidates in the February 11 election (OSCE)

SIGNS OF CHANGE? Reporters Without Borders analyst Elsa Vidal and RFE/RL Kazakh Service Director Merkhat Sharipzhanov led an RFE/RL briefing in Prague about the significance -- or lack thereof -- of Turkmenistan's first-ever competitive presidential election.


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