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Sunday, 7 January, 2001, 23:57 GMT
Ghana marks start of 'new era'
President Kufuor reviews the guard of honour
Kufuor: Big task ahead
By Kwaku Sakyi-Addo in Accra

Ghana marked the start of a brand new era on Sunday with the inauguration in Accra of President John Kufuor.

He replaces Jerry John Rawlings, who ruled the country for nearly 20 years.

Mr Kufuor swore the oath of office at a colourful ceremony in the forecourt of parliament house, and gave his inaugural address at nearby Independence Square.


Our greatest enemy is poverty and the battle against poverty starts with reconciling our people

President Kufuor
Mr Rawlings, his wife Nana Konadu, and the now former Vice-President John Atta Mills - who lost the election to Mr Kufuor - attended the swearing-in ceremony, but did not show up for the inaugural address.

Heads of state from neighbouring countries, including Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso and Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, were present at the inauguration, with Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo as guest of honour.

At least 300,000 people attended the Independence Square event, wearing the blue, white and red colours of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) which on Sunday took over as the majority party in parliament.

Forgiveness

"From today, we must learn to smile again, we must learn to appreciate the good in each other and we must feel pride in being Ghanaians," said President Kufuor in his inaugural address.

NPP supporters
Thousands demonstrated their support for the new president
"We have work to do and that starts today. Our greatest enemy is poverty and the battle against poverty starts with reconciling our people."

Without making specific reference to the human rights abuses allegedly committed by the Rawlings administration, Mr Kufuor said: "We have gone through turbulent times and we should not down play or brush aside the wrongs that have been suffered.

"I do not ask that we forget, indeed we dare not forget, but I do plead that we try to forgive," he added.

'Independence day'

The new president called on donor countries to give Ghana debt relief, and told the international business community that Ghana is "open for business - come in and let's do business."


It feels like today is the real Independence Day

Student
He also appealed to the millions of Ghanaians living abroad: "We need your newly-acquired skills and contacts, we need your perspective and we need your capital. Come back home where you belong and let's join in building a new Ghana."

Mr Kufuor also paid tribute to Ghanaian women, and promised to create a Ministry for Women's Affairs.

After the ceremony one student remarked: "I wasn't born at the time of independence, but it feels like today is the real Independence Day."

Jerry Rawlings
Jerry Rawlings: President for 20 years
"I just feel free, free like a bird today, I want to fly," said another jubilant youth waving a placard which read "This is the day the Lord hath promised."

"Now I'm not going to be a market porter again," said a young woman clutching her baby on her back.

Work ahead

But NPP activist Asamoah Boateng, who lives in London, had a more sober assessment.

"There's an enormous task ahead. We've got to tackle the economy very quickly and national security as well, so we've got work to do - the party ends after this ceremony."

Hundreds of supporters ran after Mr Kufuor's horse-led convoy as it left the ceremony, and brass band music echoed against the massive walls of the square.

Ordinary party followers will be dancing for a while yet.

But for President Kufuor and NPP officials, the party will not last too long as he must shortly name his cabinet.

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See also:

03 Jan 01 | Africa
Reflections on Ghana's election
30 Dec 00 | Africa
Historic win for Ghana challenger
11 Dec 00 | Africa
Ghana votes for change
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