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U.S. Embassy Official Says Turkmen Relationship Improving

President Berdymukhammedov (left) at Independence Day celebrations in October

President Berdymukhammedov (left) at Independence Day celebrations in October

ASHGABAT –- The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat says bilateral relations have improved since Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov came to power in late 2006.

Embassy Public Affairs Officer Andrew Paul told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service that Washington will continue to support the democratization process in Turkmenistan but noted that progress depends on the willingness of Turkmen authorities to make changes.

Paul said the policy of the United States toward Turkmenistan is unlikely to change much under the incoming administration of Barack Obama.

Berdymukhammedov was appointed acting president in the wake of longtime leader Saparmurat Niyazov's death of heart failure, and won election in a closely controlled vote in February 2007.

He has ushered in limited reforms in the political, welfare, and education sectors but has left the authoritarian system of his predecessor largely untouched.

Critics of increased engagement with gas-rich Turkmenistan argue that international pressure should continue until that country does a better job to eliminate democratic shortcomings, systemic rights abuses, and curbs on free speech and assembly.