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Turkmenistan Swears In New President

Turkmenistan's new president - Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov - has pledged to follow the path set by the late authoritarian leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, during his swearing in ceremony in the capital, Ashgabat, Wednesday. VOA's Lisa McAdams in Moscow has more on the inauguration.

The head of Turkmenistan's Central Election Commission, Murad Karryev, declared Mr. Berdymukhammedov the winner of Sunday's election, with nearly 90 percent of the vote. His five lesser-known challengers - who all hailed from the same political party - scored in the single digits.

Moments after the announcement, the long-time Niyazov loyalist - a dentist by trade - placed his hand on the constitution and took the presidential oath of office.

In his inaugural speech, Mr. Berdymukhammedov pledged to dedicate himself to the legacy of Niyazov, who suppressed all forms of political opposition in Turkmenistan during his 21 years of rule

At the same time, the new president again hinted at possible reforms, including allowing ordinary citizens access to the Internet - a benefit previously reserved for government officials and a few journalists.

But it is Mr. Berdymukhammedov's pledge to continue pursuing a policy of exporting natural gas from Turkmenistan's vast reseves that is most likely to be watched by Russia, Europe and the United States.

Turkmenistan has the 12th largest known gas reserves in the world.

International heads of state in attendance included Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, whose country is a major recipient of Turkmen gas, was also present.