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Somali President Sworn In - 2004-10-14

Six heads of state, dozens of dignitaries from almost all continents, and Somalis from every walk of life were on hand to witness the swearing-in of Somalia's new president.

On a raised platform in the middle of Nairobi's Kasarani Sports Stadium, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed pledged on the Koran to govern Somalia according to the constitution that was produced after two years of peace talks.

A 21-gun salute followed, then a military band played Somalia's national anthem.

There was a feeling of euphoria in the stadium, as Somalis celebrated what they said was a new chapter in their country. Dancers, singers, and poets expressed the excitement many in the stands felt.

Spectator Amina Mohamed Mursal told VOA she is optimistic about the future.

"Today, I am very, very happy because it is a big day today," she said. "I want to go back my country. Now I am live [living in the] UK. I do not want to go back again [to the] U.K."

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki called the inauguration "a moment of great joy and victory" for Somalia's people.

He said Somalis have paid a heavy price for the country's 13-year civil war.

"More than 500,000 people have reportedly lost their lives, 500,000," he noted. "Another two million have been displaced, with 1.5 million living as refugees outside Somalia. About 90 percent of all school buildings have been destroyed, and only about 17 percent of children are enrolled in schools. At the same time, 70 percent of the people of Somalia live below the poverty line."

President Kibaki urged Somalia's new president to practice what he called "self-sacrifice, accommodation, and commitment" to Somalia's people. He urged those who lost the election to work for the good of the country.

Mr. Yusuf, a professional soldier and a member of the Darood clan, was declared Somalia's new president late Sunday after winning 189 votes to 79 over his nearest rival, former diplomat and minister Abdullahi Ahmed Adow.

The inauguration is the culmination of a two-year peace process conducted in Kenya during which 23 factional leaders, civil society representatives, traditional elders, and others came together to write a new charter for the country and pick a new government.

Somalia fell into anarchy after dictator Siad Barre was ousted in 1991. Since then, groups based on clan and sub-clan affiliations have controlled different parts of the country through the strength of their militias, with no central government to provide law, order, and resources to the people.

Somalia's new government is expected to return to Somalia over the next couple of months.