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Medvedev Sworn in as New Russian President

Newly-inaugurated Kremlin leader Dmitri Medvedev says Russia must develop genuine respect for the law. But VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports, critics of the new president see his elevation to power as a contradiction of the legal values he promises to advance.

Considerable fanfare accompanied Dmitri Medvedev's inauguration in a lavish Kremlin ceremony that featured goose-stepping military units and 2,000 guests. They included political and military leaders, Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim clergy, and foreign ambassadors.

Mr. Medvedev entered the Kremlin in a Mercedes Benz limousine. He walked up a long flight of stairs to an ornate hall along a red carpet to a stage where he was awaited by outgoing President Vladimir Putin, the head of Russia's Constitutional Court and the leaders of both houses of Parliament.

Placing his hand on a copy of the Russian Constitution, the new Kremlin leader pledged to uphold the document, Russian sovereignty, and the human rights of citizens.

In a six-minute address, Mr. Medvedev underscored the importance of the law in development of what he said are his most important objectives, civil and economic freedom.

Russians are obligated, says the president, to achieve genuine respect for the law and to overcome legal nihilism, which hinders modern development. A well-developed legal system, he adds, creates conditions for economic and social development, supports entrepreneurship, and the struggle against corruption. Mr. Medvedev notes that the law is no less important for securing Russia's global role and a dialogue with other nations.

The inauguration was broadcast live on television. Yet critics note that Kremlin control of not only television, but the entire electoral process, gave Mr. Medvedev an unfair advantage during the presidential election.

On the eve of the presidential inauguration, Moscow authorities backed by hundreds of riot police, dispersed demonstrators who sought to protest what they believe was a fraudulent presidential election. One of the participants, Alexander Khatov of the United Civic Front, questioned whether the new Russian leader has the genuine support of his people.

Khatov says 40 percent of Russian's did not participate in the election and another 24 percent voted against Mr. Medvedev. The activist concludes that a combined total of 64 percent did not vote for this president.

Khatov's estimate, however, sparked a shouting match with a Medvedev supporter who noted that every country has people who do not bother to go to the polls.

Authorities disperse d the inauguration eve protest, saying demonstrators did not have a permit. Organizers countered that the local mayor's refusal to issue the document, which was requested more than two weeks in advance, betrays the freedom which President Medvedev pledges to support.

In a brief address minutes before relinquishing the presidency, outgoing leader Vladimir Putin thanked the people of Russia for their support and wished Mr. Medvedev success.

Mr. Putin recalls his oath of office eight years ago, when he promised to work openly and honestly and to faithfully serve the Russian state and its people. He says he did not violate his oath.

Critics say that the Medvedev presidency and Mr. Putin's new role as prime minister do not represent open transfers of power.

Some have also noted that the first Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, gave his successor a pen as a symbol of presidential succession. Mr. Yeltsin had used that pen to sign bills into law. Mr. Putin has said he will keep that gift instead of giving it to his successor.