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Nigeria's New President Calls for Reconciliation, Electoral Reform


Nigeria's new president Umaru Yar'Adua has called for reconciliation and electoral reform, following controversial elections in Africa's leading oil producer. Mr. Yar'Adua was sworn in Tuesday in Eagle Square, Abuja. VOA's Nico Colombant was there and filed this report.

Musicians greeted about a dozen heads of state, including South African President Thabo Mbeki, and rebel leader, Ivory Coast Prime Minister Guillaume Soro.

After a short military parade, Mr. Yar'Adua was sworn-in, ahead of schedule.

Mr. Yar'Adua is the first university-educated president of Nigeria, and the first, in Africa's most populous nation, to succeed another president in an orderly manner. At his swearing in, he called himself a servant leader.

Mr. Yar'Adua also called for dialogue to replace violence.

"I appeal to all aggrieved communities to immediately suspend all violent activities and respect the law," he said. "Let us allow a constructive dialogue to take place. We are all in this together and we will find our way to achieve peace and justice."

The two terms of his predecessor Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military leader, were marked by sectarian violence and ended with repeated kidnappings of foreign workers in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

President Yar'Adua also called for losers in the recent elections, at state and federal levels, to dispute results through the court system if they have grievances.

He promised that after the court challenges are over, he will tackle electoral reform.

"I will set up a panel to examine the entire electoral process with a view to effective reforms and to ensure that we raise our general elections to meet international standards," said Mr. Yar'Adua. "I will make this a national priority at the conclusion of the legal processes."

An opposition campaign director, Sule Hamma, says that falls short of what the opposition wants, which is the cancellation of the elections.

"I do not think he is qualified to call for that because he came by an illegitimate process himself, and if he really means it, if he is really a man of honor and he says what he means, and he means what he says, then he should resign and accept that the elections have not met minimum standards of democratic elections," said Hamma.

International and national observers said the elections were not credible and were deeply flawed, marked by violence, underage voting, missing voting materials in many parts of the country and a lack of transparency in the release of results.

Opposition and union leaders have vowed protests in the post-election period, but these have failed to materialize. In the main city Lagos Tuesday, police set up roadblocks to prevent any large-scale demonstration.

Union leaders have also expressed anger at the recent increase in the price of gasoline and the outgoing administration's sell-off of several refineries and other state companies to businessmen close to the ruling party.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer, but humanitarian agencies say less than half its people have access to running water and just one fourth have access to electricity.