Thousands have attended the inauguration of Mali's new President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. French President Francois Hollande took the occasion to announce the end of the French military mission in the country.
The official inauguration ceremony in the 55,000 seat “March 26 Stadium” in the capital Bamako was attended by 30,000 supporters of President Keita, who won the August 11 election by a landslide.
French President Francois Hollande addressed the crowd and twenty international dignitaries at the beginning of festivities, and took the occasion to announce the official end of the French military mission to the country.
"We have won this war, we have chased out the terrorists, but France has paid a price for the liberation," he declared, in reference to the French troops who were wounded or killed since France launched a military intervention in its former colony to fight back against Islamist insurgents.
In March 2012 the government in Bamako the democratically elected government of Amadou Toumani Toure was toppled by military officers who had fought a separatist Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country. In the instability following the coup, the Tuareg managed to seize control of a large area, before they in turn were pushed out by radical Islamist groupings that imposed Shariah law.
There was worldwide condemnation and France sent in 4,500 troops to launch an offensive in January, which was joined by several of Mali's neighboring countries.
In the presidential election in August, Keita who was born the son of a civil servant in 1945, emerged as the clear winner. It was the first presidential poll in Mali since 2007.
Keita formally took the oath of office two weeks ago as required by the country's constitution. Thursday's ceremony was intended to mark a new beginning for the country, the stadium was draped in the national red and green flag, schoolchildren sang the national anthem.
Democratic elections are the prerequisite for the unlocking of more than $4 billion (three billion euros) in aid. Mali on Wednesday set November 24 as date for parliamentary elections.
rg/hc (AFP, AP, dpa)