Tajik president inaugurated for fourth term

DUSHANBE (AFP) - Tajikistan's long-running President Emomali Rakhmon was inaugurated for a fourth term on Saturday, as he promised to alleviate the grinding poverty in the former Soviet country.

Mr Rakhmon, who has led Tajikistan since 1992, won November 6 polls with a landslide victory of 84 per cent against a field of virtually unknown candidates, extending his presidency by seven years.

In his inaugural speech, he vowed to reduce poverty levels in the country, whose economy relies heavily on remittances sent by migrant workers doing manual labour in Russia.

"The level of poverty will fall to 30 per cent by 2015 and to 20 per cent by 2020," he promised in a speech shown live on all the country's television channels.

Currently 40 per cent of the 8 million population live in poverty. The mountainous central Asian country bordering Afghanistan had its economy devastated by a civil war after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The president also promised to build several new hydroelectric power stations to relieve the country's constant power cuts.

Mr Rakhmon, 61, kissed the country's flag and was handed the presidential chain of office, which is made of gold encrusted with emeralds and rubies.

Afterwards he inspected a military parade in an open-topped car. The city's central streets were closed to traffic and shops did not open. Tens of thousands, mainly students and young people, lined the streets for several kilometres to greet him.

State television then showed Rakhmon walking back to his government office to work.

The polls, which had a turnout of more than 90 per cent, were criticised by observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for the lack of campaigning and genuine choice.

The main opposition party, the Islamic Renaissance Party, said Thursday that the polls "proved once more that the current authorities do not have the political will to hold free elections."