Her aim is to lead the war-ruined nation toward lasting peace and stability

MONROVIA (Liberia): Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was sworn in on Monday as war-battered Liberia's new President, carving her name into history as Africa's first elected female head of state.

Wearing a cream-coloured outfit and traditional African headdress, Ms. Sirleaf repeated the oath of office read to her by Supreme Court Chief Justice Henry Reed Cooper during an inauguration ceremony attended by thousands of civilians and scores of foreign diplomats, dignitaries and African leaders.

In a statement, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan congratulated Ms. Sirleaf, saying she had a ``historic mandate to lead the nation toward a future of lasting peace and stability.''

Ms. Sirleaf takes charge of a ruined nation struggling for peace after a quarter century of coups and war. She has pledged to unite Liberia and secure the trust of sceptical foreign donors whose aid is desperately needed to rebuild the country.

Security was tight at Monday's ceremony, with armed U.N. peacekeepers surveying the scene from atop surrounding buildings with binoculars. Two U.S. Navy warships were visible offshore for the first time since the war ended in 2003, a rare show of support also meant to protect two high-profile guests: Laura Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Also attending were several African heads of state, including Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo and South Africa's Thabo Mbeki.

Ms. Sirleaf will serve a six-year term as head of Africa's oldest republic, founded by freed American slaves in 1847. Ms. Sirleaf inherits a nation in tatters. The capital has no running water or electricity, and unemployment is 80 per cent. - AP