Thursday, May 8, 2008

MOSCOW — Dmitry Medvedev yesterday was inaugurated as Russia’s president, pledging to bolster the country’s economic development and civil rights in what might signal a departure from his predecessor’s heavy-handed tactics.

Mr. Medvedev took the oath of office in the Kremlin’s golden-hued Andreyevsky Hall, bringing to an end Vladimir Putin’s eight years as president. But Mr. Putin is sure to continue to wield huge influence in the country.

Little more than two hours after becoming president, Mr. Medvedev nominated Mr. Putin as prime minister.

Mr. Medvedev has pledged to continue the policies pursued by Mr. Putin, and some observers see him as more likely to be a policy follower than an independent leader.

But in his inaugural address, Mr. Medvedev referred to civil rights issues several times a possible indication his presidency would take a different course from his mentor’s.

Under Mr. Putin, Russia’s economy soared from near-disaster to astonishing prosperity. But the role of civil society came under question, as opposition groups were marginalized and nongovernmental organizations came under heavy pressure.

The March election of Mr. Medvedev was seen by many as one of the most-marked signs of Russia retreating from democracy. Most of the prominent opposition aspirants to the post were kept off the ballot.

The 42-year-old president, formerly a first deputy prime minister and chairman of the state-controlled natural gas giant Gazprom, yesterday highlighted civil rights, saying that one of his most important tasks will be “the development of civil and economic freedom.”

“Human rights and freedoms … are deemed of the highest value for our society and they determine the meaning and content of all state activity,” he said.

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