Source: New York Times
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia inaugurated a second six-year term on Monday, calling for political reconciliation after a runoff election that was tarnished by an opposition boycott and street clashes between protesters and the police.

Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf, who shared last year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to stabilize the country and promote women’s rights, said the election cemented Liberia’s transition to democracy after years of strife.

But she also acknowledged the lingering bitterness of her opponents, led by Winston Tubman, the challenger who withdrew from the runoff in November claiming fraud in the first round the month before.

“The cleavages that led to decades of war still run deep,” she said in an inaugural address delivered beneath a wooden pavilion on the grounds of the country’s legislature. “So, too, does the longing for reconciliation.”

Mr. Tubman and other leaders of his party, the Congress for Democratic Change, appeared ready to boycott Monday’s inauguration, but ultimately announced Sunday that they would attend. Mr. Tubman sat prominently on the pavilion along with several African heads of state and foreign dignitaries, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf, elected in late 2005 and the only woman in Africa serving as president, overwhelmingly won the runoff election with 90.8 percent of the vote after failing to reach 50 percent in the first round of voting in October, when 16 candidates ran.

While international observers praised the election as free and fair, turn out in the runoff dropped by half. The day before the vote, Mr. Tubman’s supporters clashed with the police, who responded with tear gas and gunfire. At least one person died and several others were injured.

Despite the violence and boycott, Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf, 73, said the election showed that Liberia, founded by freed American slaves in 1847, had “turned the corner” and earned “our rightful place as a beacon of democracy.”

She appealed for all sides to set aside political differences in order to rebuild an impoverished country of nearly four million still shattered by the civil war that ended in 2003. She also emphasized that this would be her last term, an indirect but clear acknowledgement that she broke a campaign pledge to serve only one.

“Patriots freely and openly and even passionately disagree about what is best for the nation they love,” she said. “Patriots acknowledge that those who may not embrace their particular views are nonetheless acting out of their own understanding of what is best for their country.”

Mr. Tubman previously vowed to neither recognize nor cooperate with the new administration, so his attendance appeared to be a step away from confrontation, if not yet real reconciliation.

Mrs. Clinton attended the inauguration at the start of a two-day trip to West Africa that will also include a stop in Ivory Coast, where a disputed election led to violence. She will also visit Togo and Cape Verde. She was joined by Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, and Gen. Carter F. Ham, the commander of the United States Africa Command.

“There has to be a recognition that in elections sometimes you win and sometimes you lose,” Mrs. Clinton said, praising Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf’s outreach in remarks to employees at the new American Embassy here. “I happen to know that for a fact. I have done both of them.”

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