Martelly has vowed to transform Haiti into a new Caribbean destination for investment and tourism [AFP]

Michel Martelly, a charismatic singer with no government experience, has been sworn in as Haiti's president, shouldering a daunting task of reconstruction in his poor, earthquake-battered nation.

The former entertainer, 50, took the oath of office before Haiti's national assembly in a prefabricated UN-supplied structure erected on the site of the old parliament building destroyed by last year's earthquake.

Reflecting the huge rebuilding challenges facing the Western hemisphere's poorest state, a power outage struck as the swearing-in ceremony started on Saturday, but Martelly went ahead with the oath in Port-au-Prince, the capital.

Rene Preval, the outgoing president, joined the applause as his successor received the blue and red Haitian presidential sash.

In a small but volatile Caribbean nation with a history of revolts and dictatorships, the inauguration marks the first time that a democratically elected Haitian president hands over power to a freely elected leader from the opposition.

"This is a new Haiti, open for business now," Martelly declared, standing before the ruins of the country's presidential palace as thousands outside its wrought iron gates cheered him on.

Speaking in French and Creole, he pledged to restore security for investors, end political instability, and foster development "so we can emerge from our misery."

"We are going to change Haiti," he said.

'Sweet Micky'

The new president, a star of Haiti's Konpa carnival music who is known as "Sweet Micky," wooed mostly poor and illiterate voters with a potent promise of change in a whirlwind election campaign that culminated in his victory in a March 20 run-off.

Special coverage: Haitian earthquake

He has vowed to transform Haiti into a new Caribbean destination for investment and tourism that will provide jobs and better lives for its 10 million people.

Among those attending the swearing in were the presidents of other Caribbean states, including the neighbouring Dominican Republic, and representatives of major donor nations.

Bill Clinton, the UN special envoy to Haiti, led the US delegation, while Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, represented Haiti's former colonial ruler.

Martelly won a popular mandate in a sometimes turbulent election protected by UN peacekeepers.

The vote was steered through by the international community led by the US, which persuaded local electoral officials to rectify several alleged fraud cases.

The new president can count on international support, including from Washington, as he sets out to rebuild a country where hundreds of thousands of destitute earthquake victims are demanding jobs and homes.

Source: Agencies