Alassane Ouattara was inaugurated as president of Ivory Coast on Saturday, in a ceremony most Ivorians hope will end a decade of conflict and mend a once prosperous economy.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, one of the guests of honor at the event, received a standing ovation after Ouattara thanked him for sending in French troops to end an impasse over his election win.
“This day is a historic moment for all Ivorians and it marks a will to write a new page of history for Ivory Coast,” Ouattara said in a speech in the former French colony’s official capital Yamoussoukro.
“The crisis is behind us,” he said. “It is the return of Ivory Coast into the international and African scene that we are celebrating today.”
Ouattara was declared winner of a UN-certified election last November billed as a chance to reunite the fertile, cocoa-growing West African nation, after rebels seized its northern half in late 2002.
Instead, the country lurched back into civil war when former president Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down — and used troops, paramilitaries, youth militias and Liberian mercenaries to entrench his position and crush dissent.
The impasse ended when pro-Ouattara rebels backed by the French military raided Gbagbo’s compound at the height of the fighting and seized him from his blast-proof bunker.
On Saturday, UN tanks lined the main avenues of Yamoussoukro amid high security for the arrival of about 20 heads of state and dignitaries.
Thousands of cheering Ivorians gathered outside the venue and watched the inauguration on giant TV screens. In Abidjan, the commercial capital, troops fired automatic weapons into the air to celebrate.
Henriette Diabate, Ivory Coast’s grand chancellor, placed a gold necklace around Ouattara’s neck, marking his official inauguration.
As the former IMF deputy director sat on stage wrapped in an orange sash, a group of chiefs from Yamoussoukro cast sand on the ground and poured a libation in a ritual to ask ancestral spirits to give him their blessing.
Ouattara faces the task of reuniting a bitterly divided country and getting its wrecked economy back on track.