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'Ma Ellen' Sworn in for second term, renews call for reconciliation

3/21/2012, 3:43 p.m.
'Ma Ellen' Sworn in for second term, renews call for reconciliation

Jan. 17 (GIN) - Liberia's Nobel peace laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took the oath of office for a second term in the presidency in a lavish $1.2-million ceremony attended by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and hundreds of guests and dignitaries.

Thousands looked on from the grounds of the capitol building as the 73-year-old grandmother pledged to uphold the constitution. "We have earned our rightful place as a beacon of democracy, a country of hope and of opportunity," Sirleaf said. "The cleavages that led to decades of war still run deep but so too does the longing for reconciliation."

Six years ago, the newly-elected Sirleaf - informally called "Ma Ellen" - vowed to make graft "public enemy number one", but the Harvard-trained president said she soon realized that Liberia's corruption-endemic society could not be changed in one term.

"We now will move very quickly on the punishment side through our judicial reform, taking cases to court," Sirleaf told The Associated Press in a pre-inauguration interview.

Sirleaf said the nation needed a process of national healing not defined "by tribe, region, religions or ethnicity but by equality of opportunity and a better future for every Liberian".

In the years since Sirleaf took office, the country added nearly 3,500 miles of paved roads. Children under the age of 5 are dying at half the rate they were before, and people are earning almost double what they made when she was first elected, according to reports.