Moscow President Saparmurad Niyazov, an eccentric leader who ruled Turkmenistan with an iron hand, died suddenly Thursday, triggering a scramble for power in the gas-rich Central Asian state.
Niyazov, who used the name Turkmenbashi, or "Father of all the Turkmen," was 66. State television said he died of a heart attack.
In an apparent sign of an immediate power struggle, the country's Security Council announced the opening of a criminal investigation against the speaker of parliament, Ovezgeldy Atayev, who under the constitution was in line to become acting president.
Instead, the council named Deputy Prime Minister Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, 49, to the post. Under the constitution, a presidential election must be held within two months, and the acting president cannot be a candidate.