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Saturday, 8 June, 2002, 21:31 GMT 22:31 UK
New Malian president sworn in
Amadou Toumani Toure
Toure helped bring democracy to Mali

For the first time in Mali's history, one elected president has handed over power to an elected successor.

After 10 years in power, Alpha Oumar Konare welcomed president-elect, retired General Amadou Toumani Toure, to the presidential palace on a cliff overlooking the capital, Bamako.

Alpha Oumar Konare
Konare stepped down after 10 years in power
The two men consulted for 40 minutes behind closed doors.

Then Konare vacated the palace graciously, heading off to a new palatial residence built for him by the Chinese Government, on the outskirts of Bamako.

Konare was not present at the Congress Palace two hours later for the official swearing-in ceremony.

The official explanation was that protocol could not handle two presidents at a time.

His absence did not dampen enthusiastic attendance at the ceremony.

Many thousands of invited dignitaries and Malian citizens tried to squeeze into the main auditorium of the Congress Palace, which holds only 1,000 people.

The official ceremony was delayed by an hour as organisers tried to convince Malians to cede their places to foreign guests.

The congestion in the Congress Palace was exacerbated by the presence of 11 African heads of state from Mali's neighbours - Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Guinea, Mauritania and Guinea, as well as Gabon, Chad, the Central African Republic, Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

'Ordinary man'

It was shortly before midday that Amadou Toumani Toure arrived with his spouse, Lobo Toure, and the ceremony could begin.

Mali's attorney general reminded the incoming president that he was "an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances" and that the country faced serious social and economic problems, with the youth "refusing to respect their elders".

The Supreme Court then officially declared Toure president of Mali.

President Amadou Toumani Toure, resplendent in a white boubou, draped with the yellow, red and green official Malian colours, looked slightly overwhelmed when he stepped forward to the microphone, and raised his right hand to be sworn in.

In his first address to the nation, President Toure thanked individually the heads of state who had come to Bamako for his inauguration ceremony.

He excused his faux pas in neglecting to mention Gabonese President Omar Bongo by saying: "He was so important that I forgot him".

Political transition

During the ceremony, the auditorium erupted in cheers and chants of ATT, the nickname given to Amadou Toumani Toure 11 years ago, when he toppled the regime of General Moussa Traore, putting an end to 23 years of heavy-handed military rule in Mali.

Moussa Traore
Toure paid tribute to former dictator Moussa Traore
ATT then led the country through a transition year and into elections in 1992.

He did not run in those elections, and exactly 10 years before Saturday's ceremony, he handed power to elected President Alpha Oumar Konare.

No-one failed to notice the symbolic importance of Amadou Toumani Toure's first speech to the nation as elected president, in which he paid homage not just to his immediate predecessor, Alpha Oumar Konare, but also to the man he overthrew in 1991, Moussa Traore, who has been demonised by political leaders in the country over the past decade.

It was the first time since that coup that Mr Traore was referred to as "his excellency".

President Toure said his main aim as president would be to reconcile Malians with their past.

But now that he has been officially sworn in and the lavish formalities are over, most Malians are waiting for their new president to do something about the present.

They want him to take concrete action to ease the poverty and to improve health and education in their country, which after 10 years of democracy, remains one of the poorest on the continent and in the world.


See also:

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