Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai has been sworn in as Afghanistan’s new president, replacing Hamid Karzai in the country’s first democratic transfer of power since the 2001 US-led invasion toppled the Taliban.
He became Afghanistan’s new leader in a peaceful transition after a six-month election season which ended with marathon negotiations that gave the newly created position of chief executive to his challenger, Abdullah Abdullah.
Mr Karzai had been Afghanistan’s only leader since 2001.
His successor faces challenges across his war-torn nation, including continued attacks from Taliban insurgents and other militants.
Mr Ghani Ahmadzai entered the presidential palace wearing a dark black turban popular in the country’s south. Mr Abdullah sat two seats away, with Mr Karzai in between.
Mr Karzai – the only president Afghans and the West have known since the invasion – smiled as he greeted his guards upon entering the palace. He has said he is glad to be stepping down after more than a decade of what the US ambassador recently said was one of the most difficult jobs in the world.
The inauguration caps a nearly six-month election season that began when ballots were first cast in April. A run-off election in June between Mr Ghani Ahmadzai and Mr Abdullah stretched on for weeks as both sides levelled charges of fraud.
The United Nations helped carry out what it said was the most thorough recount in its history, a count which reduced Mr Ghani Ahmadzai’s share of the vote from 56% to 55%, but still gave him the win.
But the real power struggle was taking place in marathon talks between the two sides, often brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry and other American officials. The political deal the sides struck created the new position of chief executive that Mr Abdullah will now fill.
US officials have said they expect Mr Ghani Ahmadzai to sign a security agreement shortly after his inauguration to allow about 10,000 American troops to stay in the country after the international combat mission ends on December 31.
Meanwhile, violence continued in Afghanistan today.
In the eastern province of Paktia, Captain Mohammed Hekhlas said a car bomb exploded near a government compound as gunmen attacked, sparking a gun battle that killed seven Taliban militants. Another police official, who gave his name as Azimullah, said four police officers and two civilians also were killed.
In the capital, Kabul, where the city was preparing for the presidential inauguration, a roadside bomb exploded on the airport road. Officials said no-one was hurt or killed.