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Turkmen Schoolteacher Says Presidential Candidacy Rejected

ASHGABAT -- A schoolteacher in the Turkmen capital says her application to run for the country's presidency has been rejected by election officials, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports.

Ayna Abayeva, who says her candidacy is supported by the unregistered nongovernmental organization Civil Society Movement, told RFE/RL that Central Election Commission officials "did not want to listen to us" when she tried to submit her application papers in mid-December in Ashgabat.

A commission official who declined to give his name told RFE/RL that Abayeva was told that the Civil Society Movement must be registered with the Justice Ministry before it could nominate a candidate for public office.

Authorities in Turkmenistan refuse registration to independent NGOs, although they allow some government-organized NGOs (dubbed GONGOs) to operate.

Abayeva, who is in her mid-40s, said she sent a letter to the Turkmen Prosecutor-General's Office and Supreme Court but so far had not received a reply. She said she would appeal to international organizations for help in her quest to register for the February 12 presidential election.

Eight candidates have been registered for the election, including incumbent Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, and seven other applications are still pending with election officials.

Abayeva said she and members of the Civil Society Movement tried to go to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) office in Ashgabat for help but that guards outside the building said the office was closed. Abayeva said she will still seek help from the OSCE.

The head of the Civic Society Movement, Annaly Nepesov, told RFE/RL that Abayeva is competent to run for and become president.

Nepesov said Abayeva, a high-school English teacher, had come up with several ideas for improving Turkmenistan's education system and bringing it closer to international standards. But he said Abayeva's proposals had instead caused problems for her with Education Ministry authorities.

Nepesov said his NGO had helped Abayeva to keep her job as a teacher during these "problems."

Berdymukhammedov discussed his election program in a nationwide television address on January 9. He said he wants to turn Turkmenistan "from a predominantly agrarian country into an industrial power."

Berdymukhammedov added that he will further develop the country's political system, increase the power of local officials, and "further democratize" public institutions while establishing new political parties and independent media entities.

Western rights groups and international organizations have criticized Berdymukhammedov for making similar pledges about advancing democratic principles when he became president in 2006 but making only minimal changes to the dictatorial rule of his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov.

At the end of his televised speech, Berdymukhammedov vowed that he wouldn't take advantage of his access to state television and ordered the Central Election Commission to allocate broadcast time to the other presidential candidates, most of whom are regional officials appointed by Berdymukhammedov.

One of them, Dashoguz Province Deputy Governor Recep Bazarov, met with voters on January 9 in the Ruhabat district of Akhal Province. He told people if elected he would work "honestly" and do everything in his power to "further improve the national democracy...and seek more effective use of economic opportunities" in Turkmenistan.

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