Kyrgyzstan inaugurated a new president Thursday in the first peaceful transition of power in the former Soviet Central Asian nation.
Speaking after his swearing-in, Almazbek Atambayev sounded a note of ethnic harmony and called on all political camps to unite to assure Kyrgyzstan's future prosperity.
Authorities hope the inauguration will usher in an era of stability, which has eluded the country since the April 2010 overthrow of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. A few months after Bakiyev's ouster, ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities wracked the country's south and left hundreds dead.
Kyrgyzstan's fate is of interest to both Russia and the United States. The Central Asian country on China's mountainous western border hosts a U.S. air base crucial to operations in nearby Afghanistan and has been the focus of competition between Washington and Moscow for regional influence. Russia also controls an air base outside the capital.
The first two presidents to lead the country after independence in 1991 were overthrown in public uprisings. Outgoing President Roza Otunbayeva, who wrested power from Bakiyev, earned international plaudits for agreeing to relinquish power.
Atambayev won more than 60 percent of votes in October's presidential election, easily pushing aside nationalist rivals.
He spoke in both Kyrgyz and Russian during an inauguration speech tailored to forging national cohesion.
The southern city of Osh is still reeling from a wave of ethnic clashes in June 2010 that left almost 500 people dead. The Uzbek minority, which suffered the heaviest losses in the violence, has seen its role in the local economy relentlessly stamped out and complains of enduring discrimination.
Speaking in Russian, Atambayev said Kyrgyzstan could only remain whole by fostering unity. He called for the end of Soviet-era practice of including ethnic affiliation in passports.
After delivering her own final speech as president, Otunbayeva stood to one side of the stage as Atambayev was sworn in and adorned with a ceremonial medallion. In another symbolic act, Atambayev concluded the inauguration by joining town elders in the hall in a brief prayer.
Atambayev's ascent to power appears to mark a likely reorientation of the country's foreign policy toward Moscow. He has expressed an ambition to guide the country into the Russia-dominated Customs Union tariff-free zone, which also includes Belarus and Kazakhstan.
"We have common history and a common future with Russia and our neighboring countries," he said.
Despite seemingly warming ties, Russia was not represented by any officials from the presidential administration at Thursday's ceremony, instead sending the relatively low-profile chairman of the constitutional court, Valery Zorkin.
That prompted some to speculate that the snub came in response to the presence at the inauguration of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, whose government has for years had tense relations with Russia.
Atambayev, 55, is a wealthy businessman who made his fortune in the early 1990s after setting up a printing house churning out Russian translations of Mario Puzo's "Godfather" series, as well as more controversial fare such as Anthony Burgess' "A Clockwork Orange" and the works of Marquis de Sade. He temporarily stepped aside in September as prime minister _ a post he held since Bakiyev's ouster _ to campaign on a platform of restoring economic stability.
Kyrgyzstan's struggling economy has historically been blighted by galloping corruption, an issue that Atambayev vowed to tackle.
"We must build a Kyrgyzstan in which every honest and decent person can feel completely free and safe, and in which charlatans, bandits and bribe-takers will be considered social outcasts," he said.