Liberians urged President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to do more to fight graft and poverty as she was sworn into office on Monday for a second term before regional leaders and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Johnson-Sirleaf was inaugurated in a ceremony on the lawn of the national parliament, with celebratory cannon blasts ringing out to mark the event.
Nobel laureate Johson-Sirleaf has said her main task nine years after a civil war will be shoring up peace in Liberia, increasing investment in its resources and curbing rampant youth unemployment especially among ex-child soldiers.
“We inaugurate a new beginning: a rebirth of our democracy and a restoration of hope,” Johnson-Sirleaf said, affirming that this would be her last term.
Her efforts may be boosted by her main rival Winston Tubman’s recognition of her victory in the controversial November run-off, which Tubman boycotted alleging irregularities and raising fears of a return to unrest.
Tubman attended the ceremony, sitting on the front row.
Tubman was forced to flee his party headquarters in the capital on Sunday when it was besieged by dozens of supporters angry at his decision to recognise Johnson-Sirleaf’s government.
“We expect that she will live up to her promises. She promised to have a government of inclusion. She promised to bring the CDC (an opposition party) on board, but she must know that we remain a strong opposition party in Liberia,” Tubman told a news conference ahead of the inauguration.
Sirleaf faces a tough challenge of getting Liberia back on the rails in her second term, with the country still to recover from a 14-year civil war that ended in 2003.
Tensions have been running high in Liberia since the election. Late payment by the government for part-time jobs prompted thousands of youths to rampage through Monrovia on December 23, smashing the windows of parked cars.
Accused by critics of having little to show for her first term, Johnson-Sirleaf has vowed to use her new mandate to cut poverty in half, create jobs, nurture double-digit economic growth and build up infrastructure and basic utilities.
“For me, I think she has not done well in many places. She was very weak on security and fighting corruption. She needs to do more this time in areas such as poverty reduction and corruption,” said onlooker Jeremiah Konneh, as he waited to cheer guests arriving for the inauguration.
Regional leaders including President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, Alassane Ouattara of Ivory Coast and Alpha Conde of Guinea, also attended the ceremony.
A senior U.S. official travelling with Clinton said Johnson-Sirleaf’s second term came at a critical juncture in Liberia’s history, as it is now experiencing nearly a decade of peace.
“This is an opportunity for the United States to express our appreciation and praise for the outstanding work that she has done over the last five years,” the official said.
Clinton is leading an eight person delegation which also includes General Carter Ham, head of the Pentagon’s Africa Command.