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Mexico's Pena Nieto takes over as president

Mexico's new president has taken office, promising to put drug violence at the top of his agenda. Enrique Pena Nieto’s inauguration marks the return to power of the country’s long-standing party of government.

In a short ceremony at Mexico City's National Palace on Saturday, Pena Nieto (pictured above right) was symbolically handed a flag by outgoing president Felipe Calderon.

The two men sang the national anthem and shook hands with members of both the new and old Cabinet in a handover that began just after midnight.

"Today I begin to exercise the honorable office of president," said Pena Nieto, who added that the transition reflected well upon the nation.

"This process has contributed to the preservation of the political, economic and social stability of the nation," he said. "Mexico has shown democratic maturity and institutional strength."

An official inauguration is set to take place later on Saturday. Pena Nieto's election means a return to power after 12 years for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

The party ruled the country for much of the last century, holding power without interruption for 71 years. By the time it was voted out in favor of the National Action Party (PAN), the PRI had become associated with corruption, authoritarianism and vote-rigging.

Promise to tackle narco-violence

Pena Nieto has promised to deal with drug gangs, with more than 60,000 people killed in narcotics-related violence in the past six years.

As part of the new administration, two of Pena Nieto's closest political allies have been appointed to key positions. Miguel Angel Osorio Chong takes over at the Interior Ministry, while Luis Videgaray becomes the new finance minister.

In a bid to build cross-party consensus, however, the president also appointed Calderon's last finance minister, Jose Antonio Meade, to the Foreign Ministry and the left-wing ex-mayor of Mexico City Rosario Robles as minister for social development.

The outgoing PAN is generally considered to be on the right of the Mexican political spectrum.

Pena Nieto formerly served in the district legislature, having won the 2005 vote to become Mexico state governor.

His election in July attracted criticism over the distribution of shopping vouchers to voters, which opponents claimed was a form of bribery. The complaints led to a legal challenge - rejected by an electoral court - and prompted a wave of demonstrations.

rc/dr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)