Seychelles President France-Albert Rene, one of Africa's longest-serving heads of state, has retired and handed over power to his vice president.

In a festive ceremony at State House gardens, Seychelles Vice President James Alix Michel became the Indian Ocean islands' third president. He was sworn in by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Vivekanand Alleear.

The editor-in-chief of the government-run newspaper Seychelles Nation, Denis Rose, says the main challenge Mr. Michel faces is to revive the islands' economy.

"There have been some problems with the economy," he said. "The thing is now to try and get the economy back on its feet again, after government has invested heavily in infrastructure and social things to help people."

He says the new president will likely be a less autocratic leader. "His style of government will be a bit different in the sense that he is open to more dialogue, which he has promised to do, so that they can get together all the different players in the economy to try and solve the problems," he said.

He went on to say Mr. Michel will also need to ensure stability in order to attract tourists.

President Rene, who had founded the Seychelles People's United Party, now the Seychelles People's Progressive Front, was named prime minister at independence from Britain in 1976. A year later, following a coup, he became president, and led a socialist-style government.

Opposition parties were banned until the early 1990s. The country now has several opposition parties.

The leader of the Seychelles National Party, Wavel Ramkalawan, told the French news agency, AFP, his party would recognize Mr. Michel as president, but urged him to consult more widely and run, what he called, an open and transparent government.

U.S. Ambassador to Seychelles John Price was reported as saying the transfer of power takes the islands a step closer to democracy.