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Razak sworn in as new prime minister

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi officially left his post on Thursday after six years in office. His replacement, former Finance Minister Najib Razak, was sworn in early Friday.

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AFP -Najib Razak was sworn in as Malaysia's sixth prime minister Friday, assuming charge of reuniting the fractured ruling party and steering the nation through the global economic downturn.

He took the oath of office in front of the Malaysian king at a ceremony at the palace broadcast live on national television.

The planned transfer of power follows the resignation Thursday of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who analysts say failed to live up to his promises during six unremarkable years in office.

"I, Najib Razak, who has been chosen to hold the post of prime minister, swear that I will carry out the responsibilities which I have been entrusted with to the best of my ability" the 55-year-old said.

"I will be true to Malaysia and will defend and uphold the constitution."

A religious official then read several verses from the Koran to pray for a successful leadership.

Najib's accession to the premiership completes a transition triggered by elections last year when the ruling United Malays National Organisation party (UMNO) slumped to its worst ever performance.

Abdullah, who was widely criticised as weak and ineffective, agreed several months ago to step down amid the fallout from those elections, which reshaped Malaysia's political landscape.

When he first came into office Abdullah pledged sweeping reforms including tackling corruption -- seen as endemic both in the ruling party and society at large.

In the end, he was punished at the ballot box last year for not making good on those promises, when the opposition won an unprecedented one third of seats in parliament and seized control of five states.

Najib, who wsa Abdullah's deputy and finance minister, became president of UMNO last week at its annual assembly, which was dominated by debate on how to overhaul the party and reclaim popular support.

According to Malaysian political tradition, the party leader takes on the country's premiership at the head of the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional coalition.

Najib, the 55-year-old son and nephew of two former prime ministers, has said he will focus on uniting the multi-racial nation after ethnic minorities shifted to the opposition in the 2008 polls.

Malaysia's population is dominated by Muslim Malays, and among the ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities there is some sense that their rights are being eroded as the nation becomes increasingly "Islamised."

Najib also faces the challenge of cushioning the country's economy from the impact of the global economic crisis, which has sparked the loss of more than 26,000 jobs here since the beginning of the year.

Last month he unveiled a stimulus package worth 16.2 billion dollars, but has warned that Malaysia's export-driven economy could shrink by 1.0 percent this year despite the massive spending.

However, analysts say that before he can begin to tackle these issues, he must first clear the air over opposition allegations linking him to the murder in 2006 of the mistress of his close aide -- a Mongolian woman whose body was blown up with military-grade explosives.

He has also been forced to reject corruption allegations as well as charges that his administration would adopt hardline tactics, including the detention of its opponents, under tough internal security laws.
  

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