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Putin starts 2d term with new pledges

Vows to boost living standards, build civil society

MOSCOW -- President Vladimir Putin began his second term yesterday by disavowing any aspirations to autocratic rule and promising to help build a ''fundamentally better" Russia.

''The success and prosperity of Russia cannot and must not depend on one person or one political party, one political force," he said during an inauguration ceremony at the Kremlin set in czarist splendor. ''We must have a broad base of support in order to continue transformations in the country."

Putin, the former KGB agent who became Russia's second democratically elected president in 2000, sought to reassure critics that he will not misuse his near-monopoly on political power, but he neither spelled out his reform program nor explained how Russia should develop the ''mature civil society" that he said he wanted. In his first inaugural address four years ago, he pledged to ''preserve and develop democracy," but his speech yesterday did not include that word.

Credited by many Russians with restoring political stability and economic growth after the turmoil of the 1990s, Putin won reelection in March with more than 70 percent of the vote. In his speech yesterday, he pledged to concentrate his final four-year term on tangible improvements in the standard of living.

''Only free people in a free country can be successful," he said, speaking under the gilded sunburst that decorates the former imperial throne room. Minutes earlier, the Soviet Union's national anthem, restored by Putin, played for the first time at a Russian inauguration.

Putin, 51, created what his advisers called ''managed democracy" in his first term, as the Kremlin reconsolidated power after the more pluralistic but chaotic rule of President Boris Yeltsin. After four years, that strategy left Putin with a compliant Parliament in the control of his United Russia party, national television networks back in state hands, and regional governors with reduced powers. He passed reforms such as allowing private ownership of land, but drove into exile or jailed business tycoons who opposed him.

He also prosecuted a long, brutal war in the breakaway Chechnya region, where sporadic fighting continues despite Kremlin claims of victory. In his speech, Putin did not mention Chechnya by name but said ''Russia showed its best patriotic and civil qualities when it fought for the territorial integrity and unity of the country."

The president arrived at the Kremlin Palace at the stroke of noon, wearing a black suit, a red tie, and a confident smile as he strode alone down red-carpeted halls and through three gilded salons filled with invited governors, parliament deputies, religious leaders, and diplomats.

Unlike four years ago, neither Yeltsin nor Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was on hand, and the guest list of 1,700 excluded politicians oriented to Western democracy whose parties were knocked out of Parliament in December. Journalists were not allowed at the ceremony, which was broadcast live on state television.

On the rostrum in St. Andrew's Hall, Putin placed his right hand on the constitution and swore to ''respect and protect human and civil rights and freedoms" of Russian citizens. Afterward, he stood alone in the Kremlin's majestic Cathedral Square to review the Presidential Regiment. At the end, artillery guns fired a 30-round salute.

''Putin represents the CEO of Russia the corporation, and he looked much more modern today than this Soviet and czarist environment at the inauguration ceremony," said Lilia Shevtsova, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, a research organization.

Close Putin allies such as Mikhail Margelov, a member of the upper house of parliament, have promised that the president will begin a ''second wave of reform" now that the distractions of the election are behind him. But few concrete plans have emerged beyond a government shake-up that Putin began before the election by sacking his longtime prime minister and replacing him with Mikhail Fradkov, former chief of the tax police.

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