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Turkmenistan vote slammed as sham

Turkmenistan vote slammed as sham
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Turkmens elected a new parliament on Sunday in a snap ballot described by the government as a step towards democracy.

But few foreign observers or media were present at the vote, which has been condemned by critics as a scam.

The gas-rich country, a former member of the Soviet bloc, has been slowly emerging from isolation after more than two decades of rule by megalomaniac dictator Saparmurat Niyazov.

President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has promised to accelerate reform to attract foreign investment, and Europe will be watching the vote closely to assess how much business it can do with Turkmenistan.

But voters have put little faith in an election where candidates either represent the ruling Democratic party or are state-approved independents, and the run-up to the ballot was marked by voter apathy.

However, criticism of the government remains taboo in this country, whose opposition lives mostly in exile.

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