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Liberia: Former football player leaves football stadium as President

Today was not certainly the first time President George Weah had packed out a football stadium, but perhaps it was the most significant.

Former World Player of the Year George Weah was on Monday sworn in as Liberia’s president in front of a packed crowd of an estimated 35,000 people at the Samuel Doe Stadium in Monrovia, and immediately promised to continue the fight against corruption.

The 51-year-old is taking over from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize as a champion of women’s rights and Africa’s first elected female president in Liberia.

Weah entered politics after retiring from football in 2002, he ran for the presidency in 2005 and lost to Sirleaf.

Weah saw off the challenge of Joseph Boakai – who beat him to the vice-presidency in 2011 – in a run-off election which was delayed after Boakai challenged the early election results in court.

Weah eventually won with 61.5 percent of the votes in the run-off elections held a day after Christmas last year.

In his first speech after his election, Weah promised to promote national unity, encourage foreign direct investment, and tackle corruption, a challenge that his predecessor admitted she had underestimated.

“The mandate that I have received is a mandate to end corruption. It is time to put the interests of our people above our own interests and ensure that our country’s resources do not end up in private pockets.

“We must pay civil servants a living wage so that corruption is not an excuse because you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

“I promise to do everything in my power to be the agent of positive change. But I cannot do it alone. I call on the legislature to work with me to pass laws that will complete the foundation of our nation.”

Jewel Taylor, the ex-wife of former Liberia president Charles Taylor – who is in a UK prison for war crimes – will be Weah’s vice-president.

Named by FIFA as Africa’s Player of the Century, Weah is one of the most decorated stars of world football, becoming the first and only player to win the African Player of the Year, European Player of the Year and World Player of the Year awards at the same time.

For a man whose life is steeped in football, it was no surprise that Weah opened his speech with football symbolism.

“I have spent many years of my life in stadiums, but today is a feeling like no other. I guarantee you that when we finish, there will be no winner or a loser. Today we all wear the jersey of Liberia. And the victory belongs to the people.”

Liberia’s outgoing President Sirleaf attended the ceremony. Mr Weah thanked her for “laying the foundations on which we can now stand in peace”.

The last peaceful transfer of power between two democratically elected presidents took place in Liberia in 1944, when president Edwin Barclay was replaced by William Tubman.

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