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16.01.2006 General News

Liberian President Johnson-Sirleaf takes office

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From: Kwaku Osei-Bonsu, GNA Special Correspondent, Monrovia

Monrovia, Jan 16, GNA - Mrs Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf who won last November's presidential run-off in Liberia was on Monday inaugurated for a six-year term, promising an all-inclusive and tolerant Government. "I extend a hand of friendship and solidarity to the leadership of all political parties to play an important role in rebuilding our country", the 67-year old Harvard trained Economist said after taking the Oath of Affirmation at the grounds of the Capitol.

She is the first woman to be elected president in Africa. Several International dignitaries including eight African leaders, attended the inauguration. They included President John Agyekum Kufuor, South African President Thabo Mbeki and President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria.

Others were President Mamadou Tanja of Niger, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, President Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso, President Faure Gnassingbe of Togo and President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah of Sierra-Leone.

Also there to show solidarity with the Liberians was a high-powered United States delegation led by the First Lady, Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf, who beat soccer star George Oppong Weah in the poll, faces the challenge of fostering unity and reconciliation after 14 years of civil war that killed at least 200,000 people, displaced thousands of Liberians and spawned out a generation of child soldiers. Mr Weah, who initially contested the results of the poll alleging fraud but later backed down on his protest, attended the inaugural event.

Acknowledging the enormity of the challenge, Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf rallied the nation to come together to heal the wounds and rebuild the country.

She said given the physical destruction and moral decadence left by the war and the sense of deprivation among the people, it was understandable they would have high expectation of her administration. Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf drew long applause when she declared an all out war against corruption saying, "I will lead by example."

She said everyone in high position of trust, including Cabinet Ministers and other top officials would be made their assets and that she would also see to the establishment of a National Code of Conduct. She was confident that through the resilience of the people, Liberia could transfer "adversity to opportunity, freedom, equality and progress".

Liberia, Africa's oldest Republic slipped into a long-running civil war when Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front overran much of the countryside and entered the capital in 1990.

In 1995, a peace agreement was signed leading to the election of Taylor as President but the respite was brief as anti-government fighting broke out in the North of the country.

Matters came to a head in 2003 when Taylor, under international pressure and hammed in by rebels, stepped down and went into exile, paving way for a transitional Government that steered the country into elections in 2005.

Liberia is presently home to a 15,000-UN peacekeeping force. 16 Jan 06