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Uzbek Leader Sworn in For Third Term After Highly-Criticized Vote

Uzbekistan's authoritarian leader Islam Karimov was sworn in Wednesday for another seven-year term, after a highly-disputed presidential election last month.

Western observers have denounced the December 23 vote as undemocratic.

The Uzbek Central Election Commission reported that Mr. Karimov received about 88 percent of the vote to win a third term.

President Karimov was opposed by three little-known candidates, all of whom supported his government.

Election monitors with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe say the vote left no room for real opposition and failed to meet democratic standards.

During his inauguration speech before parliament Wednesday, President Karimov defended the election as fair.

International human rights groups charge that Uzbekistan is one of the world's most repressive societies. Activists say Uzbek jails hold thousands of political and religious prisoners.

In 2005, President Karimov ordered the closure of a U.S. air base after he was criticized for a government crackdown that left several hundred protesters dead in the eastern city of Andijan.

Since then, the Uzbek leader has strengthened ties with Russia and China.

The former Soviet republic is rich in energy resources, and exports most of its natural gas to Russia.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.