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Ghana swears in opposition leader Mills as president
Wed Jan 7, 2009 10:36am EST
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By Kwasi Kpodo
ACCRA (Reuters) - Ghana swore in opposition leader John Atta Mills as president on Wednesday in a democratic transfer of power that has won plaudits from Africa and the world.
President John Kufuor stepped down after serving the maximum two four-year terms in office in the West African state. His party's chosen successor lost a cliffhanger presidential election run-off to Mills last week by less than 0.5 percent.
Many thousands of people packed Independence Square by the Atlantic seafront in central Accra for the ceremony. It was one of the biggest public gatherings since then-U.S. President Bill Clinton visited Ghana more than 10 years ago.
Mills, who had lost the previous two presidential elections to Kufuor, faces an uphill task to steer Ghana's promising but indebted economy through a world financial crisis and to seek political consensus after a bruising electoral campaign.
"Fortunately, Mills himself appears to have recognized the fact that the nation is somewhat divided, as reflected in the results of the presidential runoff," said Professor Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi, director of the Centre for Democratic Development.
"There are also immediate economic challenges. Both parties had made a lot of promises and the pressure to redeem them could lead to a hike in public spending, and that has implications for the economy," Gyimah-Boadi told Reuters in Accra.
Mills, dressed in a wrap of local kente cloth woven in Ghana's national colors of red, green and yellow, was sworn in by the country's chief justice.
He then raised aloft the symbolic State Sword, representing government authority, to cheers from the crowd, and a military unit fired off a booming 21-gun salute.
Several African leaders including President Umaru Yar'Adua of regional heavyweight Nigeria were present.
The election, which saw isolated violence but no major trouble, was welcomed as a boost for democracy in Africa after electoral chaos and bloodshed in Kenya, Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
Earlier, the new parliament took office and elected Ghana's first woman speaker since the former Gold Coast colony gained independence from Britain in 1957. No party holds an outright majority in parliament, which was elected on December 7.
Ghana was the first sub-Saharan African colony to achieve independence and became a potent symbol of African liberation.
But founding President Kwame Nkrumah's pan-Africanist dreams collapsed as Ghana entered decades of on-off army rule that only ended when former coup leader Jerry Rawlings introduced democracy in the 1990s and handed power to Kufuor in 2001.
Kufuor has supervised the transformation of the world's No. 2 cocoa grower and Africa's second biggest gold miner into one of the region's most attractive investment destinations. The country is due to become an oil producer in late 2010. Continued...
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