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Race Is On For Aspiring Successors To 'Turkmenbashi'

Much of the international attention is focused on Turkmenistan's massive natural-gas reserves (ITAR-TASS) January 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Campaigning has begun in Turkmenistan for candidates in February's election to replace longtime President Sapamurat Niyazov, who died in December.

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports that the country's People's Council has selected six candidates, including current acting President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, for the vote on February 11.

State media reports that the first meetings of candidates with voters will begin this week and candidates will be given airtime on state television and radio.

Berdymukhammedov moved quickly to take a prominent leadership role in the hours after Niyazov's death, and is likely to emerge as a front-runner.

The other candidates reportedly approved by the Central Election Commission are: Deputy Petroleum Industry and Mineral Resources Minister Ishanguly Nuryev; Abadan city head Orazmyrad Garajayev; Turkmenbashi city Governor Ashirniyaz Pomanov; parliamentary deputy and First Deputy Governor of the Dashoguz region Amanyaz Atajykov; and the head of the Karabekaul district, Mukhammetnazar Gurbanov.

Niyazov had led Turkmenistan since 1991, and his "president-for-life" status prevented the establishment of a law on presidential elections.

His unstinting efforts to protect his administration from any public sign of dissent or discontent means his death left a yawning gap, with no clear indication as to which direction the energy-rich country is headed.

Turkmenistan is the former Soviet Union's second leading exporter of natural gas.

(with additional reporting by AFP)

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