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Former Soviet state goes to polls

Voting has begun in Turkmenistan's presidential election in a race designed to cement the incumbent's hold on power in the authoritarian Central Asian nation.

The seven candidates running against President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov have all made praise for the energy-rich former Soviet nation's leadership a central plank of their campaigns.

Mr Berdymukhamedov, a 54-year-old trained dentist, was elected to his first term with 89% of the vote in 2007, weeks after the sudden death of his eccentric, iron-fisted predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov.

Mr Berdymukhamedov came to power amid hopes of a gradual loosening of the country's closed political system, but those expectations have largely been dashed.

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