TASHKENT -- Shavkat Mirziyaev has been sworn in as president of Uzbekistan, pledging continuity after the death of longtime autocrat Islam Karimov but also promising a major government reshuffle.
Inaugurated at a joint session of the parliament's two chambers on December 14, Mirziyaev became the second president the Central Asian country has had since it gained independence in the collapse of the Soviet Union 25 years ago.
Mirziyaev, 59, swore "to faithfully serve the people of Uzbekistan."
He held his right hand on the Koran and the constitution of Uzbekistan, a predominantly Muslim country with an officially secular government. Members of the Central Election Commission and the cabinet, judges of the Constitutional Court, and foreign diplomats attended the ceremony.
Prime minister since 2003, Mirziyaev was elected on December 4 after three months as interim president following the death of Karimov, who had ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist since 1989.
"I will continue the work of my dear teacher, the great statesman Islam Karimov," Mirziyaev said after the inauguration ceremony.
"There will be many changes in the cabinet," he added. "Many ministers will also be replaced. I am...not a new person here. I know every minister's capacity and what he is doing."
Signs Of A Thaw?
Mirziyaev has raised expectations of reform, which some observers say is vital for the country of some 30 million, which has natural-gas resources and is a major cotton grower but is struggling economically.
On December 13, he promoted liberal politician Sodiq Safoev, who has called for civil, political, and economic reforms, to the post of deputy speaker of the Senate with oversight of foreign policy, international economic ties, investment, and tourism.
Safoev said last week that "Uzbekistan cannot achieve economic growth unless it pushes forward political reforms," and that defending private property, protecting human rights, and creating a favorable investment climate were also crucial.
Before the inauguration, Mirziyaev released some people widely seen as political prisoners, made steps to improve ties with neighboring Central Asian countries, and established channels aimed to improve communication between citizens and the authorities.
Last week, Mirziyaev proposed direct elections for regional governors and city mayors. He gave no details about the promised cabinet shake-up.
Parliament on December 14 also confirmed Abdulla Aripov, 55, as prime minister.
A longtime deputy prime minister who was dismissed by Karimov in 2012 amid a telecoms-industry corruption scandal but brought back by Mirziyaev in September, Aripov is seen as loyal to the new president.
Some observers had expected Rustam Azimov, a deputy prime minister who is considered more influential than Aripov, to become prime minister.
Azimov is in charge of finance and macroeconomics, and in September Mirziyaev added education and science to his responsibilities.
With reporting by Reuters