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Colombia swears in new president
Jaun Manuel Santos takes office amid soaring unemployment and a spat with Venezuela.
Last Modified: 07 Aug 2010 21:06 GMT
Santos participated in a leadership ceremony with indegenous tribes on Saturday morning [Reuters]

Juan Manuel Santos has been sworn in as Colombia's president, taking the lead of a nation facing soaring unemployment, a decades-long insurgency and a diplomatic rift with neighbouring Venezuela.

The inauguration ceremony in Congress on Saturday was attended by about 5,000 guests, including many foreign heads of state.

Santos begins his term with a strong mandate after winning 69 per cent of the vote in the presidential runoff vote in June.

He gained popularity during his his 2006-2009 stint as defence minister, leading successful operations against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).

Santos travelled to northern Colombia early on Saturday to participate in a leadership ritual with representatives of four indigenous communities.

"Earth and water produce the food and now I understand what I have received: water, earth, food, the people and the government," he told the group of tribal leaders.

"That is going to be my inspiration during my term [as president]. I receive these elements with a great commitment and I will take good care of them."

Symbolic trip

Al Jazeera's Teresa Bo, reporting from Bogota, said this was the first time a Colombian president attended such a ceremony.

"Let's not forget that Colombia's indigenous communities have been hit by war," she said. 

"They have been caught in the crossfire in the fights between paramilitary groups, left-wing rebel groups and even the army.

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"So there's a very clear message in this trip. He [Santos] has spoken about a government of unity and he is obviously saying that he wants all Colombians to be part of it."

Among Santos' challenges will be managing relations with his Andean neighbours, particularly Venezuela, which has broken off diplomatic and trade ties with Colombia.

Nicolas Maduro, the Venezuelan foreign minister, attended Santos' inauguration, raising expectations that the two countries can overcome past disputes.

"We want to extend the hand of friendship," Maduro said after arriving in Bogota.

"We are willing to work on advancing, moving toward the future."

Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, cut ties with Colombiaon July 22 after the government of Alvaro Uribe, Santos' predecessor, released evidence that it said showed Venezuela gives haven to Colombian rebels.

High unemployment

On the domestic front, Santos will have to deal with an unemployment rate of 12 per cent and 46 per cent poverty.

He has vowed to create 2.5 million new jobs during his four-year term in office.

He has also pledged to continue Uribe's crackdown on Farc and maintain his
pro-business approach, which has seen foreign investment grow five-fold since 2002 as Colombia's conflict waned.

Uribe leaves office with an 80 per cent approval rating. 

But his second term was marred by scandals over abuses by troops, illegal wiretapping of his critics, and probes into legislative allies over collaboration with paramilitary gangs.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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