KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo -- After decades of dictatorship and wars, Congo yesterday swore in its first freely elected president since 1960, installing the son of a rebel leader who promised a new era of order and better days ahead.
"This moment marks the beginning of a new era that must bring well-being and development to Congo's people," Joseph Kabila said at his inauguration ceremony outside the presidential palace. "I see a Congo where the people are always able to work."
Kabila, declared the winner of an October presidential run off vote, took his oath after a series of prayers from different faiths -- including Muslim, Christian, and the indigenous Kimbanguist Church.
Thousands of onlookers shaded themselves from the sun under umbrellas in the national colors of blue, red, and yellow.
Though he has been accused of continuing a trend of corruption and ignoring abuses by his army, Kabila, 35, is widely praised for ushering in a peace plan that ended 1998-2002 wars that drew in the armies of at least six countries and creating a unity government that organized the central African country's first multiparty elections in more than four decades.
Rich in cobalt, diamonds, copper, gold, and other minerals, Congo gained independence from Belgium in 1960 and was ruled for 32 years by Mobutu Sese Seko, a dictator who plundered the nation's wealth, pocketing billions. Kabila's father helped depose Mobutu, but was assassinated by his bodyguards in 2001, leaving his son in power.
A series of conflicts and street clashes have marred the transition and the election -- often with army units battling each other. In the east, troops of a renegade general have fought the army in recent days.
The UN's 17,500 troops in Congo have been called on repeatedly to keep the peace, but the violence has never fully derailed the process started four years ago.
Kabila won the run off with 58 percent of the vote, compared with about 42 percent for former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba.