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Turkmen election not free or fair - OSCE official.

Turkmen election not free or fair - OSCE official.

Turkmenistan’s presidential vote on Sunday was not free or fair but was a step in the right direction, the head of a group of parliamentarians from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said.

The gas-rich Central Asian nation voted for a new leader following the death in December of Saparmurat Niyazov, who ruled the country with an iron fist for two decades.

"They may hardly be called elections and they were absolutely not free and fair," Portugese member of parliament Joao Soares told Reuters.

Soares was in Ashgabat with four other members of the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly to improve links with the reclusive state and stressed his role was not one of a formal election monitor.

"What we saw does not correspond to the standards of the OSCE," he said.

"But we have to recognise that, for a country which was under strong leadership for (so long), the fact that they are at least trying to do something that resembles a free election is a step forward."

He said he had been prevented from watching ballots being counted in the vote, which is widely expected to hand power to acting leader Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.

Aside from the OSCE PA team, the human rights arm of the 56-member OSCE -- which conducts election monitoring -- sent nine experts to watch the elections, although it said it would not issue a formal report on the conduct of the vote.

Reuters February 11, 2007

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