Turkmens Amend Constitution for Investors

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan — Turkmenistan on Friday adopted a new constitution designed to improve its democratic credentials and assure investors of its economic openness.

The gas-rich country is at the center of Europe's plans to diversify energy sources, although some political analysts and rights groups have challenged its resolve to implement democratic reforms since the death of absolute ruler Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006.

Under the constitutional changes announced Friday, Turkmenistan abolished a Niyazov-era legislative body whose 2,500 delegates were handpicked by the president and transferred its powers to an elected 125-member parliament.

"Old laws no longer match the new stage of our development," President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov said.

The new constitution vows to respect property rights and market economy principles — a welcome signal for Western investors seeking a share of its energy resources.

It also enlarges the parliament to 125 seats from 65. Berdymukhammedov said an election for the new members would take place in December, monitored by international observers.

The new constitution fixes the presidential term at five years and gives the Turkmen leader some of the powers previously held by the disbanded legislative body, such as appointing regional governors.