Mauritania saw its first transfer of power between elected leaders on Thursday as President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz handed over to his successor.
Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani was sworn in at a conference centre near the capital Nouakchott before a crowd of 5,000 people.
He won elections on June 22 to replace Abdel Aziz, his mentor.
“I swear to carry out my duties with full impartiality and with respect for the law and the constitution,” Ghazouani said at the ceremony.
Ghazouani, 62, described himself as the “president of all.” He vowed to make security a priority by strengthening the army and to help poor communities.
READ: Ghazouani confirmed by Mauritania’s constitutional council
Abdel Aziz, who seized power in 2008, was credited with stabilising the country after three decades of upheaval, reforming the armed forces, cracking down on jihadists and bringing development to remote parts of the vast predominantly Muslim state.
But the former leader also came under fire from rights groups for restricting freedom of expression and assembly.
Among those at the ceremony were Senegalese President Macky Sall and other leaders of the G5 Sahel nations — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger — which have joined forces with Mauritania against Islamist militants.
The US presidential delegation included an energy investment specialist, John Deaver Alexander. Mauritania is looking to explore and develop oil and gas reserves.
Ghazouani, a former general, won a majority of 52 per cent of the vote though opposition parties denounced electoral fraud.
READ: Mauritania frees blogger jailed for ‘blasphemy’
Former leader Abdel Aziz came to power in a coup but won elections in 2009 and in 2014. He left Mauritania more stable and its armed forces in better shape after years of jihadist violence and kidnapping of foreigners.
As a former army Chief of Staff, Ghazouani was one of the architects of reforms within the security services and the military.
Rights group, Amnesty International on Thursday called for the new president to take more action to end slavery and protect human rights defenders.
Slavery persists in Mauritania despite its official abolition in 1981.
In the final days of Abdel Aziz’s presidency, Mauritania released a blogger who had drawn international attention after being accused of blasphemy. He left the country after being released.
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