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Russia: Putin Takes Oath Of Office For Second Presidential Term

Russian President Vladimir Putin was inaugurated for a second term in office today in an elaborate ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow.

Prague, 7 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Putin won re-election with more than 70 percent of the vote in a popular ballot in March.

He took the oath of office today in the Kremlin's palatial, gold-encrusted St. Andrew's Hall -- once the throne room of the tsars -- vowing, "in exercising my powers as president of the Russian Federation, to respect and protect the rights and freedoms of citizens and individuals, to observe and protect the Constitution of the Russian Federation, to protect its sovereignty and independence, the security and integrity of the state, and to serve the people faithfully."

Some 1,700 guests, including State Duma deputies, Federation Council senators, church leaders and foreign ambassadors, attended the lavish, precisely choreographed ceremony. Honor guards dressed in replicas of uniforms worn by Russian soldiers during the 1812 Napoleonic War added to the pageantry of the occasion, emphasizing modern Russia's link to its past glory and military prowess -- a favorite Putin theme.

"Together, we have accomplished a lot and we have achieved all of this only by ourselves." -- Vladimir Putin
Putin, in a short inauguration speech, reviewed the progress made during his first administration, noting that when he first took office, Russia was in far more worse economic and political shape. He gave credit for the country's recent upswing to the hard work of its people.

"Back in the year 2000, many problems seemed simply irresolvable. But in critical situations, the people of Russia demonstrated their best patriotic and civic qualities," Putin said.

Putin also enumerated the specific achievements of the past four years: "Together, we have accomplished a lot and we have achieved all of this only by ourselves. We have, by ourselves, achieved rapid economic development, we have overcome the difficult ideological confrontation, and today, we are gradually becoming one united nation."

Addressing viewers abroad, Putin said Russia had opened to the world and was ready to deepen cooperation with its international partners on an equal basis.

Putin did not specifically mention the ongoing conflict in Chechnya, which he pledged to resolve when taking power four years ago.

And the Russian president only indirectly acknowledged that many Russians have yet to feel the benefits of the country's rise in gross domestic product (GDP). He said spreading this newly created wealth would be his priority over the next four years. According to official Russian statistics, some 20 percent of the population -- or 30 million people -- continue to live below the poverty line.

"The main goal for the next four years is to turn the accumulated potential into a new impulse of development and thereby achieve a fundamentally better quality of life for our people, to achieve real and tangible growth of their well-being," Putin said.

Putin said the historic Russian tradition of looking to the nation's leader for ultimate guidance continued to hold true. The choreography of today's ceremony emphasized this point, with Putin arriving at the Kremlin in his motorcade alone and standing at the podium without his wife or political allies, who were in the audience. But Putin said Russians should also look to themselves.

"In Russia, the head of state has been and will always be responsible for everything. This remains true, but today, while thoroughly understanding my personal responsibility, I want to emphasize that Russia's success and prosperity cannot and should not depend on one person," he said.

Following Putin's speech, Russia's national anthem was performed by an orchestra and choir.

Putin then walked back through the Kremlin's sumptuous reception halls to the applause of his guests, exiting into the Kremlin courtyard, where -- again standing alone -- he reviewed a parade of military regiments.

Putin: Greetings, comrades!
Troops: Greetings, Comrade President of the Russian Federation!
Putin: Congratulations on the 68th anniversary of the regiment!
Troops: Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!

Although some of his supporters have called on Putin to remain in office for the indefinite future, Putin's second term should be his last under the current Russian Constitution.

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