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SANTA MONICA, California — A dictator’s sudden death almost always triggers political instability. But it is doubly dangerous when it poses a risk of regionwide destabilization and a scramble for influence among the world’s greatest military powers — the United States, Russia and China.

The sudden death in late December of Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan’s authoritarian president-for-life who declared himself “Turkmenbashi” (Leader of all Turkmens), jeopardizes stability in a country that is an increasingly important supplier of energy to Europe. Worse, given the absence of a clearly designated successor and the weakness of civil society and other political institutions, his death could have repercussions across Central Asia.

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