Page last updated at 16:52 GMT, Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Ghana's new leader takes office

John Atta Mills holding a Bible during his swearing-in ceremony
John Atta Mills has pledged to be a "president for all"

John Atta Mills has been sworn in as Ghana's new president following a cliff-hanger election victory.

Mr Atta Mills, 64, took his oath of allegiance in front of thousands of people in Independence Square for the inauguration in the capital, Accra.

The National Democratic Congress (NDC) candidate beat the ruling party's Nana Akufo-Addo in a hotly contested poll by a margin of less than 0.5% of votes.

President John Kufuor has stood down after serving the maximum two terms.

He is the second elected head of state in Ghana's history to hand over to an opposition politician.

Loud cheers

The BBC's Will Ross in the Accra says there is a carnival atmosphere in the capital.

It is a dawn of a new era for Ghana and I hope to tap the experiences of the two former presidents
President John Ata Mills

Crowds began forming at the stadium before dawn - decked out in the national colours of green, yellow, red and black - amid an air of intense excitement after one of the closest election races in Africa's recent history.

Mr Atta Mills was dressed in a local kente cloth woven in the national colours, Reuters news agency reports.

After he was sworn in, he raised up the State Sword - representing government authority - to cheers from the crowd, the agency said.

A military unit then fired off a booming 21-gun salute.

"It is a dawn of a new era for Ghana and I hope to tap the experiences of the two former presidents... to build a better Ghana," AFP news agency quotes Mr Ata Mills as saying in his first address as president, referring to Mr Kufuor and his predecessor, Jerry Rawlings.

There were loud cheers when he thanked the man he narrowly beat in the election.

Age: 64
Party: National Democratic Congress
Executive posts: Vice-president 1997-2000
Profession: University professor
Hobbies: Hockey, swimming
Family: Married with one child

"During the elections Ghana's democracy was stretched to the limits but at the end of the day the sovereign will of the people prevailed," he said.

Our reporter says the fact that Mr Akufo-Addo attended the inauguration is a sign that Ghana has a relatively mature democracy and is a long way ahead of many other African countries.

Several foreign dignitaries attended the ceremony, including several heads of state from the region.

At times the police and army have had trouble keeping the crowd back so enthusiastic were they to see this change of power.

Good example

On the eve of the inauguration, Mr Kufuor showed his successor around his new home, the presidential residence officially known as Jubilee House.

Ghana's outgoing President John Kufuor
John Kufuor stepped in to get the NPP to accept defeat

Ghana's new leader, who had lost two previous elections to Mr Kufuor, has pledged to be "a president for all".

Mr Akufo-Addo won the first round but not by enough to avoid a run-off in last month's knife-edge polls.

Mr Atta Mills was finally declared the winner on Saturday after a re-run of voting in the rural constituency of Tain, which was boycotted by the New Patriotic Party (NPP).

Our reporter says there may only be one side celebrating at the inauguration, but many Ghanaians of whatever political persuasion are proud that the country is setting a good example.

Despite allegations of multiple voting and intimidation from both sides, electoral officials found no evidence of foul play and monitors gave Ghana's poll a clean bill of health.

One of Mr Kufuor's last acts as president was to intervene and persuade the governing party to accept defeat, a move which helped ensure that Ghana's election did not descend from acrimony into violence, our correspondent says.

The stakes were raised further in the election by Ghana's recent discovery of crude oil, with production due to start in late 2010.

Turnout was high for the West African country's fifth set of polls since it embraced multi-party democracy in 1992.

The former British colony was the first African state to gain its independence in 1957.

A nation of 22 million people, it is the world's second biggest cocoa grower and Africa's number two gold miner.

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