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Kremlin Quick To Select, Install New Bashkir President


Ex-President Murtaza Rakhimov (left) and newcomer Rustem Khamitov during the latter's inauguration in Bashkortostan's capital, Ufa, on July 19.
UFA, Bashkortostan -- Rustem Khamitov has been sworn in as the new president of Bashkortostan shortly after the Russian republic's parliament unanimously approved him, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

The Kremlin nominated four people as presidential candidates when Murtaza Rakhimov, who was the leader of Bashkortostan for nearly 20 years, announced his retirement on July 15.

But Khamitov, 55, the deputy chairman of the state hydropower company RusHydro, was quickly selected by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to finish Rakhimov's term, which expires in October 2011.

Before the parliament vote, Rakhimov urged legislators to back Moscow's choice.

"The most important thing is that [Rustem Khamitov] is one of our own. His soul belongs here. So I'm asking you again to support him, no matter what. Without your support it is very hard for any president to work in such a large region," Rakhimov said.

Nikolai Petrov, an expert with the Carnegie Moscow Center, told RFE/RL he thinks Khamitov was chosen weeks ago and the announcement of the four
candidates was just a smoke-screen.

"Right now the talk is that the heads of the republics should be more like 'managers' than politicians," Petrov said. "And in my opinion Khamitov is a perfect example of that."

Rakhimov, 76, was one of the longest-serving regional leaders in Russia. He has led Bashkortostan since 1990, first as a head of the republic's Supreme Soviet before being elected president in 1993. Many political analysts had been expecting the Kremlin to overhaul the "old-guard" politicians in the regions in favor of younger leaders.

Khamitov said on July 19 that the new government of Bashkortostan will be in "working order" by the end of July. "I understand what kind or responsibility rests on my shoulders now. I can see that 4.5 million people are a great force capable of doing great things," he said.