Liberia's Johnson-Sirleaf sworn in

President's rival, who had refused to accept her victory, attends inauguration amid promises of an inclusive government.

    Clinton, left, who attended the ceremony, has urged Johnson-Sirleaf to tackle the 'cancer of corruption' [Reuters]

    Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberia's president, has been sworn in for a second term in a ceremony attended by her rival, whose refusal to recognise her victory had threatened to undermine the country's stability.

    The 73-year-old Nobel laureate addressed opposition leader Winston Tubman on Monday, thanking him for agreeing to attend the ceremony, where he was seated in a place of honour in the front row.

    The ceremony was also attended by a nine-member delegation from the United States, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

    Tubman had called for a boycott of the November vote, after it became clear that he could not beat Sirleaf-Johnson, prompting many to accuse him of being a spoiler. His supporters repeatedly clashed with police and until this weekend, he continued to say he would not recognise Sirleaf-Johnson .

    He changed his mind only after a private meeting with her on Saturday.

    “We inaugurate a new beginning - a rebirth of our democracy,'' Sirleaf-Johnson told the crowd of thousands, as supporters blew horns.

    "Today we can say with conviction that our country has turned the corner. Liberia is no longer a place of conflict, war and deprivation. We are no longer the country our citizens want to run away from.''

    Symbol of empowerment

    Sirleaf-Johnson became an international symbol of women's empowerment when she became Africa's first elected female head of state in 2005, just two years after the end of the nation's disastrous 14-year civil war.

    Her popularity has continued to soar abroad, even as it plummeted at home due to endemic poverty and the country's crippling unemployment.

    Days before last year's election, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, further underscoring the contrast between her image inside and outside the West African nation.

    Tubman's party accused the president of having done too little to end the country's poverty.

    Liberia remains one of the world's poorest nations, ranked nearly at the bottom of the United Nations' index tracking development.

    Economists disagree, however, saying the country was on its knees when she took over. Nearly 80 per cent of its schools were destroyed and almost all the roads were impassable.

    Foundations for peace

    In the years since she took office, the government added nearly 3,500 miles of paved roads and people are earning double what they made when she was first elected, according to a report by the ministry of planning and economic affairs.

    "We have laid the foundations for peace and prosperity, and must now hasten our true mission: Putting
    people - especially young people - first, and lifting the lives of all Liberians,'' she said in her inaugural address.

    Clinton urged Sirleaf-Johnson to focus on "the cancer of corruption" that continues to plague Liberia, another charge often levied by Tubman's party. She told reporters at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new embassy that she had spoken with Sirleaf-Johnson earlier on Monday about fighting corruption.

    Tubman said his Congress for Democratic Change party still did not think the president had won the election fairly, even though the international community felt the president won.

    "We realised that we couldn't fight all of that, so we thought the best thing would be for us to negotiate our involvement in a government of inclusion,'' he said, adding that Sirleaf-Johnson will be recognised by his party as the president.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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