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Mirziyaev Sworn In As Uzbekistan's President

Uzbek President-elect Shavkat Mirziyaev, left, is sworn in at a joint session of the parliament in Tashkent on December 14.

TASHKENT -- Shavkat Mirziyaev has been sworn in as president of Uzbekistan, becoming the second person to hold the post since Central Asia's most populous country gained independence in the collapse of the Soviet Union 25 years ago.

The inauguration ceremony was held on December 14 at a joint session of the parliament's two chambers, the Senate and Oliy Majlis.

Mirziyaev, 59, took the oath "to faithfully serve the people of Uzbekistan."

He held his right hand on the Koran and the constitution of Uzbekistan, a predominantly Muslim country with an officially secular government.

Members of the Central Election Commission and the cabinet, judges of the Constitutional Court, and foreign diplomats attended the ceremony.

Prime minister since 2003, Mirziyaev was elected on December 4 after three months as interim president following the death of Islam Karimov, who had ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist since 1989.

Mirziyaev has raised expectations of reform, which some observers say is vital for the nation of some 30 million, which has natural-gas resources and is a major cotton grower but is struggling economically.

On December 13, he promoted liberal politician Sodiq Safoev, who has called for civil, political and economic reforms, to the post of the deputy speaker of the Senate with oversight of foreign policy, international economic ties, investment, and tourism.

Safoev said last week that "Uzbekistan cannot achieve economic growth unless it pushes forward political reforms," and that defending private property, protecting human rights, and creating a favorable investment climate are also crucial.

Before the inauguration, Mirziyaev released some people widely seen as political prisoners, made steps to improve ties with neighboring Central Asian countries, and established channels aimed to improve communication between citizens and the authorities.

Last week, Mirziyaev proposed direct elections for regional governors and city mayors.

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