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Mahathir bows out as Malaysia's PM

Mahathir (left) hands over the prime minister's file to his succesor.
Mahathir (left) hands over the prime minister's file to his succesor.

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CNN's Maria Ressa reports on the career of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad as he prepares to step down.
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A look at Mahathir's often combative rhetorical style.
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Are you sad to see Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad step down as leader?

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (CNN) -- An era has ended in Malaysia with the formal departure from office of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad after 22 years in power.

Mahathir's deputy and carefully groomed successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was formally sworn in at a somber ceremony Friday afternoon at the royal palace in Kuala Lumpur.

Ending his last day in power Mahathir, known to millions simply as Dr M, clocked out of office for the last time from the new Putrajaya administrative capital -- one of many so-called mega projects that he personally oversaw.

Abdullah, who becomes Malaysia's fifth prime minister since independence in 1957, signed the instruments of office in the presence of Malaysia's King Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin. (Abdullah profile)

Wearing traditional Malay dress Abdullah pledged to "fulfill the obligations of this position honestly and with all my energy."

With more than two decades of power under his belt, Mahathir was one of the world's longest-serving elected leaders.

However, his often-combative approach made him a controversial figure and his departure from the political scene has met with a muted international response, especially from the Western nations that bore the brunt of his criticism.

An official with the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur told Reuters they had "not received any message from the White House" marking the handover of power.

Australia also remained tight-lipped on Mahathir's departure.

"I don't have any comments to make except to re-emphasize the fact the links between Australia and Malaysia are very long, they are very deep," Australian Prime Minister John Howard told a Melbourne radio station.

Mahathir, who frequently traded barbs with Australia during his time in office, most recently described the country as "some sort of transplant from another region."

Meanwhile Malaysia's former colonial ruler Britain stuck rigidly with diplomatic protocol marking the swearing in of a new leader.

"A message of goodwill is being sent to Abdullah Badawi. It is normal practice to send one to the incoming leader," an official at the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur told Reuters.

Hero for many

But despite past controversies Mahathir is departing on a high note -- widely admired at home; respected if not adored abroad; and with his economic policies firmly entrenched. (Mahathir's legacy)

For many of Malaysia's 23 million people, it is a period of sadness as they bid farewell to a prime minister viewed as a strong defender of national pride.

A generation of Malaysians has known no other leader, while others old enough to remember his predecessor have had their lives dramatically changed by Mahathir's rule. (Mahathir timeline)

They see Mahathir as a national hero for transforming Malaysia into one of Southeast Asia's most modern and wealthy countries.

But for some, Malaysia's infrastructural change and new prominence on the international map has come at a heavy price to democracy and human rights.

Mahathir has been no stranger to controversy during his time in office.
Mahathir has been no stranger to controversy during his time in office.

Mahathir has taken a tough stance against those who opposed him, jailing opposition figures, shutting down media organizations and altering legislature to suit his visions.

His autocratic style is perhaps best encapsulated by the sacking and later jailing of his then-likely successor, Anwar Ibrahim, on sexual immorality and corruption charges.

That prompted street protests and calls for "reformasi" (reformation) of Malaysia's political landscape.

Characteristically unrepentant, Mahathir used his last full day in office Thursday to reiterate his views on a range of subjects including recent comments on the role of Jewish people in the world. (Jibes with the West)

Speaking to reporters Mahathir -- who caused an international storm earlier this month after saying "Jews rule the world by proxy" -- was asked if he had a parting message for the Jewish people.

"They must never claim they are the chosen people, who cannot be criticized at all," he replied.

"We sympathize with them, we were very sad to see how the Jews were so ill treated by the Europeans."

Mahathir says he is not anti-Semitic and that he has Jewish friends. He has also urged Muslims to reject violence and on Thursday described the Middle East conflict as a land rather than a religious dispute.

"They have taken land belonging to the Muslims," he said. "Suppose a part of Britain or a part of America was taken away and given to the Jews as Israel. Do you think the Americans are going to sit quietly and say 'Welcome,' and all that? They won't."

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