- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006

12:08 p.m.

KINSHASA, Congo — Congo inaugurated Joseph Kabila as its first freely elected president in more than four decades today, installing a rebel leader’s son who ushered in a plan to end years of fighting to help the country take a place among the world’s democracies.

Mr. Kabila, 35, was sworn in by the magistrates of the Supreme Court outside the presidential palace with thousands of onlookers shading themselves from the sun under umbrellas in the national colors of blue, red and yellow.

Mr. Kabila took his oath after a series of prayers from different faiths — including Muslim, Christian and the indigenous Kimbanguist Church.

“This moment marks the beginning of a new era that must bring well-being and development to Congo’s people,” Mr. Kabila said. “I see a Congo where the people are always able to work.

“The Congo of tomorrow, I see it as a bringer of order to all of Africa,” he said.

Mr. Kabila won a close October run-off election against Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former warlord and one of four transitional vice presidents.

Most of Mr. Bemba’s personal guard has been garrisoned about 50 miles outside of the capital since the victory was formalized by the Supreme Court Nov. 27, a precaution against fighting after forces loyal to Mr. Kabila and Mr. Bemba battled before the election.

Mr. Bemba had contested the results and was not present at the inauguration. In his speech, Mr. Kabila confirmed the right of political opponents to organize under Congo’s constitution.

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. Mr. Kabila’s father, Laurent, helped depose Mobutu, but was then assassinated, leaving his son in power.

The younger Mr. Kabila signed peace accords to end 1998-2002 wars that drew in the armies of at least six countries, and established the national-unity government he heads. Since then, the vast country has been trying to organize elections and progress to a democratic government, but has been hampered by logistical delays and continued fighting.

A series of conflicts and street clashes have marred the transition and the election — often with units of the army battling each other. But the violence never fully derailed the process started four years ago.

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