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Turkmenistan considers extending presidential rule

People gather for the monument unveiling ceremony in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan Monday, May 25, 2015. The isolated energy-rich Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan has unveiled a gold-leafed statue of the president in a gesture intended to burnish the leader's burgeoning cult of personality. The 21-meter monument presented to the public Monday consists of a statue of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov atop a horse mounted on a towering pile of marble. (AP Photo/Alexander Vershinin)

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) — Legislators in the authoritarian Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan are considering scrapping a rule that prevents people older than 70 from being elected president, a change that would allow the incumbent to serve for life.

State media on Friday cited parliament speaker Akdzha Nurberdyeva as saying a constitutional commission may also extend the presidential terms by two years, to seven years.

Both provisions will boost the already-substantial grip over power wielded by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, 57.

Berdymukhamedov, a dentist by training, came to power after the sudden death in 2006 of his eccentric predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov.

Niyazov was freed of term limit constraints in December 1999, when parliament voted to appoint him president for life.

Although initially seen as a possible reformer, Berdymukhamedov has paid little heed to calls for his energy-rich country to boost democratic freedoms. Instead, he is now presiding over an increasingly extravagant cult of personality aimed at legitimizing his rule.

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This story has been corrected to show that the 70-year age limit refers to the age at which a person can no longer be elected, not the age at which he or she must stop serving.

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