* President backs law to allow new parties
* New parties unlikely to threaten closed regime
* Economic steps not matched by political reform
President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who leads the only political party in Turkmenistan, said he was open to the creation of opposition parties in the former gas-rich Soviet republic.
He made a similar speech almost a year ago.
Any new parties would be unlikely to threaten the dominance of the ruling Democratic Party in the reclusive Central Asian country, which sits on the world's fourth-largest natural gas reserves. Criticism of the president is taboo and no public figure would risk opposing state policies.
Berdymukhamedov, in an address to parliament on Thursday broadcast a day later on state television, said the right to create a political party was enshrined within the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkmenistan is a signatory.
"It's essential to accelerate work on Turkmenistan's draft law on political parties in order to fulfil the task of further development of civil society and the democratisation of the political system in line with international norms," he said.
Berdymukhamedov came to power after the death four years ago of Turkmenistan's first post-Soviet leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, who ruled through a mixture of Stalinist repression, personality cult and eccentric decrees. Berdymukhamedov has promised to bring the country out of isolation and has eased some of his predecessor's restrictions, while gradually opening up Turkmenistan's oil and gas reserves to international investors. [ID:nLDE6AM06R]
But critics say tentative economic reforms have not been matched by greater political freedom. Only Eritrea and North Korea scored worse in the 2010 press freedom index compiled by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders. (Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Matthew Jones)
ASHGABAT, Jan 21 (Reuters)