Koroma pledges healing in Sierra Leone

By Katrina Manson and Christo Johnson

Freetown - Opposition leader Ernest Bai Koroma was sworn in as Sierra Leone's president on Monday after winning polls marked by violence and some fraud, prompting celebrations and looting in which at least one man was killed.

The 53-year-old former insurance executive, who came second in a 2002 poll, took his oath before the chief justice at State House in the war-scarred West African state's capital Freetown.

The National Electoral Commission (NEC) earlier declared the All People's Congress (APC) candidate the winner of the September 8 poll, despite a threat by the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) to challenge the result in court.

"Let us view this not as a victory for any particular group or political party or region, but as a victory for all Sierra Leoneans," Koroma said after swearing the oath.

"Let us begin the process of healing the wounds that suddenly and unnecessarily appeared during the course of this political campaign. Let us endeavour to reconcile ourselves as one nation under God," said Koroma, a Christian from the mostly Muslim north.

The NEC said Koroma had won with 54.6 percent of valid votes, defeating Vice-President Solomon Berewa, on 45.4 percent.

Sporadic violence marred campaigning for the run-off, but international observers hailed the polls as an important step in the former British colony's recovery from a 1991-2002 civil war.

The conflict killed 50 000 people and was marked by shocking cruelty in which civilians had limbs hacked off and children were kidnapped, drugged and forced to fight as soldiers.

"It's a great moment. It sends a very strong message that it is possible to hold credible elections in Africa," Victor Angelo, head of the United Nations mission in the poor nation of 5.7 million people, told Reuters.

Disgruntled SLPP officials criticised the result, but it was not immediately clear whether they would formally contest it in the Supreme Court within the required period of seven days.

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