Turkmenistan is planning to open its first public Internet cafes, a state official said Monday, a day after Turkmens voted for a successor to the longtime autocrat who kept them largely cut off from the world.
The claim by the official of Turkmentelecom, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the news media, appeared to indicate Turkmenistan aimed to make quick, if limited, steps away from the policies of Saparmurat Niyazov, whose two decades of iron rule ended with his death Dec. 21.
The official did not provide further details, including how soon Internet cafes would open.
Interim President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov, the presumed winner of Sunday's election, had made the granting of public Internet access one of a series of proposed changes. Berdymukhamedov, however, has shown no signs of allowing a multiparty political system or of allowing exiled opposition figures into the country.
Exiled opposition leaders will not recognize the results of the vote, calling it undemocratic, they said Monday. The United Democratic Opposition of Turkmenistan, representing several opposition groups whose leaders live in exile, said in a Web-posted statement that the vote was illegal.
Exiled opposition figures have not been able to return to Turkmenistan since Niyazov's death and many foreign journalists were denied visas to cover the election.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe did not send an election-monitoring mission, nor did the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose grouping of former Soviet republics.
OSCE Parliamentary Assembly chairman Goran Lennmarker, however, has said that the vote was a step in developing the country's democracy.
The state Turkmen Press news agency called the vote "a true national holiday" that demonstrated "Turkmens' civil maturity." Russia's NTV television showed footage of Turkmens enjoying festivities, singing folk songs and performing traditional dances to celebrate the election.
Niyazov who fostered an extensive personality cult, calling himself Turkmenbashi, or Father of All Turkmen still dominates the country's psyche nearly two months after his death. At a polling station in Niyazov's hometown of Kipchak, his portrait was on all the walls.
Berdymukhamedov, by contrast, has kept a low profile, though he startled observers with a series of remarks including a promise to allow unrestricted Internet access for all Turkmens, support for entrepreneurship, social reforms and a widening of educational opportunities.
But Berdymukhamedov, who also holds the title of deputy prime minister, has not spoken of political reform, reports AP.
Turkmenistan is of substantial interest to Russia and the West because of its enormous natural gas reserves and its status as a stable, neutral country bordering Iran and Afghanistan.