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Monday, Oct 20, 2014

Asia

Indonesian president gets rock star welcome at inauguration

AFP | Monday, Oct 20, 2014

Indonesian President Joko Widowo and First Lady Ariana.

JAKARTA - Joko Widodo, Indonesia's first president from outside the political and military elite, got a rock-star welcome from a cheering crowd at a celebration marking his inauguration Monday but takes power facing huge challenges in enacting bold reforms.

As night fell, Widodo, sworn in as leader of the world's third-biggest democracy earlier in the day, ran on stage in front of about 50,000 supporters at a park in central Jakarta, grinning broadly and raising his hands in the air.

"We must realise that Indonesia is a great nation but it has to be run well, it has to be run for the prosperity of the people," said the leader, known by his nickname Jokowi and famed for his man of the people image.

"I invite everyone in society to unite and work together to achieve what we have dreamt of - creating a strong, prosperous and dignified Indonesia." The inauguration capped a remarkable rise from an upbringing in a riverside slum for the 53-year-old former furniture exporter, who won the presidency in July after a close race against controversial ex-general Prabowo Subianto.

The former Jakarta governor is the country's first leader since the end of Suharto's three decades of dictatorship in 1998 to have no major links to that era.

Hopes are high for a new style of leadership in Indonesia, but there are also fears an opposition-dominated parliament could make it hard for Widodo to enact reforms to revive the G20 economy and help society's poorest.

Monday was marked by festivities, with Widodo riding through Jakarta in a horse-drawn carriage after being sworn in at a ceremony attended by dignitaries including US Secretary of State John Kerry and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

In his inauguration speech, he appealed for unity after the country's most bitterly fought election and sought to reach out to his foes.

He referred to Prabowo as "my best friend" and the ex-general responded by standing up and giving a salute, the latest sign of a thaw between the pair that could help smooth the path of Widodo's reforms.

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