Author Topic: New President of Liberia sworn in  (Read 92 times)

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New President of Liberia sworn in
« on: January 17, 2006, 11:08:11 AM »
I think this is an exciting time for Liberia and women in Africa


Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf pledged a "fundamental break" with Liberia's violent past as she was sworn in Monday as president, carving her name into history as Africa's first elected female head of state.

Wearing a traditional African headdress, Johnson-Sirleaf took the oath of office in a ceremony attended by thousands of Liberians and scores of foreign dignitaries, including first lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
   
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is sworn in as Liberia's president at the Capitol Building in Monrovia, Liberia, Monday, Jan. 16, 2006. In a ceremony attended by U.S. first lady Laura Bush and other dignitaries, Johnson-Sirleaf became Africa's first woman president.

"We know that your vote was a vote for change, a vote for peace, security . . . and we have heard you loudly," Johnson-Sirleaf said in her inaugural speech.

"We recognize this change is not a change for change's sake, but a fundamental break with the past, therefore requiring that we take bold and decisive steps to address the problems that have for decades stunted our progress," she said.

Standing in front of the Liberian flag with her left hand on a Bible, Johnson-Sirleaf pledged to "faithfully, conscientiously and impartially discharge the duties and functions of the office of president of the Republic of Liberia to the best of my abilities, so help me God."

Johnson-Sirleaf takes charge of a nation struggling for peace after a quarter-century of coups and war, and she has promised to unite it.

Speaking for the first time as president, she also pledged to stamp out corruption to secure the trust of skeptical foreign donors whose aid is desperately needed to rebuild the country.

In a statement, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan congratulated Johnson-Sirleaf, saying she had a "historic mandate to lead the nation toward a future of lasting peace and stability."

Security was tight at Monday's ceremony. Armed U.N. peacekeepers surveyed the scene with binoculars from atop surrounding buildings.

The United Nations has redeployed 500 peacekeepers previously stationed outside the capital to strategic points in Monrovia and the international airport. Liberian police, though unarmed, have also increased patrols on the streets.

Two U.S. Navy warships were visible offshore in the first such presence since the war ended in 2003, marking a rare show of support. Besides the two high-profile American guests, Bush and Rice, also attending were several African heads of state, including Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo and South Africa's Thabo Mbeki.

Johnson-Sirleaf will serve a six-year term as head of Africa's oldest republic, founded by freed American slaves in 1847. The country has known little but war, however, since a rebel group led by Charles Taylor plunged the country into chaos, invading from neighboring Ivory Coast in 1989.

Taylor became president in 1997 but stepped down and was exiled to Nigeria as part of the 2003 peace deal, which was brokered as rebels pressed on the capital. He is now wanted on war crimes charges by a U.N.-backed court in Sierra Leone for his role in supporting a brutal rebel group during that country's 1991-2002 civil war.

On a flight to Monrovia, Rice told reporters that Taylor "is through raping and pillaging this country, and the Liberian people are trying to look forward."

Nigeria has refused to hand Taylor over to the court, and Johnson-Sirleaf has said only that she would consult with regional leaders regarding Taylor's future. Rice said she was confident that Johnson-Sirleaf would work to help deliver Taylor to the Sierra Leone court.

Rich in diamonds, iron ore and timber, Liberia was relatively prosperous and peaceful until a 1980 coup in which Samuel K. Doe, an illiterate master sergeant, seized power and ordered cabinet ministers tied to poles in their underwear and executed.

Harvard-educated Johnson-Sirleaf was finance minister at the time, but was spared, she said in a recent interview, "by the grace of God."

Twice imprisoned in the 1980s by Doe's junta, Johnson-Sirleaf fled into exile.

When Taylor launched the rebel invasion in 1989, Johnson-Sirleaf briefly supported him -- a move that still draws criticism today. The war, in which children as young as 10 took up arms, uprooted half the country's 3 million people and killed 200,000.
"Aight, new drink..."