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Najib Razak Sworn in as Malaysia's Sixth Prime Minister

Reuters
Friday, 3 Apr 2009 | 1:25 AM ET

Najib Razak was sworn in as Malaysia's sixth prime minister on Friday, taking the reins of an economy grappling with a sharp slowdown and a growing racial and religious divide.

In a traditional ceremony at the yellow-domed national palace in capital Kuala Lumpur, Najib took the oath of office before the king, assuming the premiership from Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

"I hereby pledge to discharge my duties as prime minister to the best of my ability and pledge my undivided allegiance to the king," said the 55-year-old son of Malaysia's second prime minister, dressed in black traditional Malay dress and cap.

Malaysian prime ministers are appointed by the king, who is a constitutional monarch.

Watched by government ministers and other guests, Najib signed documents formally appointing him. A cleric solemnized the ceremony with prayers in a somber 30-minute event which was broadcast live on national television.

Najib is scheduled to make his first address at 8.10 p.m. local time on Friday.

He takes over the top job at a time when the mostly Muslim country of 27 million people is expected to slip into its first recession in a decade as exports slump.

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Racial and religious tensions are also on the rise in this multi-racial country, as ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities chafe under what they say is a growing erosion of their rights.

Najib's National Front coalition is struggling to stem a growing tide of public disappointment which could see it losing power to the opposition in the next general election due by 2013.

Voters handed the ruling coalition its worst election result in 2008 polls, angered by the slow pace of reforms to stamp out corruption and improve the economy's competitiveness.

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