Sirleaf takes presidential oath in disputed polls

Liberia’s Nobel peace laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was sworn in on Monday in a lavish $1.2-million ceremony and called for reconciliation after her re-election in disputed polls divided the nation.

With US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in attendance, the 73-year-old grandmother took the oath administered by the country’s chief justice Johnnie Lewis as thousands looked on from the grounds of the capitol building.

“We have earned our rightful place as a beacon of democracy, a country of hope and of opportunity,” Sirleaf said marking her ascent to a second term in office since the end of a brutal 14-year war.

“The cleavages that led to decades of war still run deep but so too does the longing for reconciliation.”

Sirleaf said the nation needed a process of national healing not defined “by tribe, region, religions or ethnicity but by equality of opportunity and a better future for every Liberian”.

This meant “creating jobs, opportunities and giving our young people the skills they need to prosper and create the life they choose”.

Whirlwind trip
After a troubled election and riots mostly attended by youths who face high levels of unemployment, Sirleaf said government should offer a worthy education so young people “can get a job and know the dignity of receiving an honest day’s wage”.

Before the ceremony Sirleaf held private talks with Clinton, who visited the nation on a whirlwind four-country trip of Africa, and discussed the impact of corruption.

“Corruption is one of the roadblocks to greater prosperity here in Liberia,” Clinton said after opening the new US embassy in Monrovia following Sirleaf’s swearing-in ceremony.

Clinton praised the west African nation’s progress eight years after the end of a 14-year conflict which left some 250 000 dead.

“Democracy hasn’t just sprouted in Liberia, it has taken root,” she said.

“The real test of a democracy’s strength isn’t the first election—it’s the second and the third and all the ones that follow.”

Poor turn-out
While the government said some 30 heads of state would attend the ceremony, few were visible—among them Guinea’s Alpha Conde, Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade and Sierra Leone’s Ernest Koroma.

Sirleaf’s bitter rival, main opposition presidential candidate Winston Tubman also attended, after accepting her election win on the eve of the inauguration following weeks of negotiations as he protested her victory.

“We recognise that Madam Sirleaf is the president of Liberia,” Tubman said on Sunday.

“Since the elections, we have been holding negotiations with the government on how to resolve the disagreement ... and having had fruitful discussions, we feel confident that the CDC will be incorporated in the government,” he added.

Africa’s “Iron Lady” won a joint Nobel Peace Prize in October, just days before a first round of voting in the presidential election, which the opposition said was riddled with fraud.

Fragile democracy
This led Tubman to boycott the run-off and call a protest on the eve of the November 8 poll which turned violent and saw police open fire on his supporters, leaving up to four dead.

Sirleaf eventually won 90.7% of votes in the run-off, but turnout was low and the opposition then refused to accept her victory, a blow to the nation hoping to cement its fragile democracy eight years after war ended.

The inauguration ceremony closed with a parade by security forces through the streets of Monrovia and floats representing Liberia’s 15 counties.

Several inaugural balls and receptions will be held in different districts on Monday night.

Foreign Minister Toga McIntosh has said that a budget of $1.2-million was approved for the ceremony in what is one of Africa’s poorest countries.—AFP


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