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Africa's First Elected Woman Leader Offers Liberians Hope


Africa's first elected woman president, Liberian Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has taken the oath of office in Monrovia, before a distinguished crowd of guests. In a stirring speech, she offered promises of a better future for impoverished and war-shattered Liberians.

Outside Monrovia's parliament, under a cloudy sky, Mrs. Sirleaf, wearing a cream-colored traditional outfit, became Liberia's 23rd president and the first woman to hold the post.

Musicians played Liberian warrior horns to mark the ascent of Africa's first elected female leader.

In a fiery speech, she vowed to make corruption what she called public enemy number one during her six-year term.

"We will confront it. We will fight it. Any member of my administration, who sees this affirmation as mere posturing, or yet another attempt by another leader to play to the galley on this grave issue should think twice," she said.

She said she would lead by example, by publicly declaring her assets, and asking those in government and heads of public corporations to do the same.

Liberia has undergone more than a quarter century of conflict, corruption and inept rule, leaving it without public electricity, phone lines or piped water and very few schools, hospitals and roads.

Mrs. Sirleaf said she would put an end to what she called the tradition of an imperial presidency, and welcomed a vibrant opposition.

She promised a new awakening for the women of Liberia.

"My administration shall endeavor to give Liberian women prominence in all affairs of our country," said Ms. Sirleaf. "We will empower Liberian women in all areas of our national life. We will support and increase the rate of laws that restore them dignity, and deal drastically with crimes that dehumanize them."

She also called on refugees, foreign-based Liberians and internally displaced civilians to return to their homes, saying there would be no vendettas.

Guests included First Lady Laura Bush, her daughter Barbara Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, South African President Thabo Mbeki, many West African leaders, the losing presidential candidate, former soccer star George Weah, and U.N. peacekeepers, who will continue to ensure Liberia's security.

Some of them were positioned as snipers just below the capitol's dome, and festivities took place peacefully.

Mrs. Sirleaf's presidency also started with the European Union committing 80-million dollars in development aid over the next three years. Some leaders are pressuring her to make sure former Liberian president and regional warlord Charles Taylor faces a war crimes court. He remains in exile in Nigeria.

The conflict which began in the early 1990s in Liberia spread to Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, and has been marked by enlistment of child soldiers and the abuse of girls and women.

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