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Last Updated: Friday, 31 October, 2003, 10:02 GMT
Malaysia's Mahathir steps down
Mahathir Mohamad hands over the prime minister's personal files to his successor, Abdullah Badawi
Dr Mahathir is keen to stress it is a smooth succession
Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has handed over power to his deputy after 22 years in power.

The King of Malaysia, Syed Sirajuddin Putra Jamalullail, swore in Abdullah Badawi as the country's next leader at a ceremony in the National Palace broadcast live on television.

The handover is a big change for a country where some 40% of the population were not even born when Dr Mahathir came to power. He has presided over Malaysia for almost half its post-independence life.

As one of Asia's longest-serving leaders, he has helped to fashion what was once an economic backwater into a high-flying industrialised nation.

While his internal policies remain questionable, his external policies will chart him as one of the greatest leaders
Magadave, Malaysia

He has also gained a reputation as a blunt-speaking pragmatist who regularly lashes out at the Western democratic process and defends his authoritarian practices at home.

Wearing a black tunic and traditional ethnic Malay dress, Mr Abdullah pledged to "fulfil the obligations of this position honestly and with all my energy".

After the ceremony at the palace, the focus switched to the prime minister's office in Putrajaya, Malaysia's new city of government.

The BBC's correspondent in Kuala Lumpur, Jonathan Kent, says it took Mr Abdullah a full 10 minutes to walk from his car to the door of his new office because so many had gathered to shake his hand.

But he says there was no hint of triumphalism from the mild-mannered new leader.

HANDOVER OF POWER
Mahathir Mohamad retires after 22 years
Abdullah Badawi new PM

Dr Mahathir was due to symbolically clock out at Putrajaya, using the punch card system he introduced for civil servants. Mr Abdullah is set to clock in on Monday morning.

Our correspondent says the attitude of the Malaysian public to Dr Mahathir's retirement is mixed. Some have grown to detest him, others regard him as a hero, but even many of his supporters think it is now time for him to move on.

Even Dr Mahathir has said he is ready for retirement.

"I've had my day, it's other people's turn now. I had 22 years. I can't complain," he told reporters on Thursday.

Malaysia's new prime minister - its fifth since the country's independence from Britain in 1957 - is considered rather different from the acerbic Dr Mahathir in style.

Mr Abdullah is seen as a safe pair of hands, a clean and honest administrator, but someone who nevertheless has gained a tough reputation in his treatment of political opponents and alleged terrorists.

His main challenge will be to shore up his support within his ruling Umno party and win back votes lost to his conservative Islamic opponents in a general election widely expected early next year.

Someone who will be monitoring his political moves closely will be the wife of incarcerated former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who was jailed for 15 years in 1999 in a move which he claims to have been politically motivated.

Azizah Ismail told the Associated Press she hoped Mr Abdullah would heed calls from human rights groups for his release, saying "it will be a great thing for him to do".




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Kylie Morris
"Dr Mahathir has delivered as a parting gift a stable, modern Malaysia"



SEE ALSO:
In pictures: Mahathir steps down
31 Oct 03  |  Photo Gallery
Press eulogy for Mahathir
31 Oct 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Mahathir leaves mark on skyline
30 Oct 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Islam's hold over Mahathir legacy
28 Oct 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Mahathir's economic legacy
08 Oct 03  |  Business
Malaysia defends speech on Jews
17 Oct 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Ask the Malaysian Prime Minister
10 Oct 03  |  Have Your Say
Mahathir in his own words
08 Oct 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Malaysia
30 Oct 03  |  Country profiles
Profile: Mahathir Mohamad
22 Sep 03  |  Asia-Pacific


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