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New Argentine President Mauricio Macri calls for unity as Fernandez skips ceremony

President Mauricio Macri has begun his term as President of Argentina after an acrimonious transfer of power from his predecessor, whose party still controls the Senate.

Macri received the presidential sash from incoming Senate speaker Federico Pinedo in the Congressional building. "Today a dream is being achieved," Macri said as he took the oath of office 15 minutes ahead of schedule. Several Latin American heads of state and other dignitaries, including former Spanish King Juan Carlos I, attended the ceremony on Thursday in Buenos Aires.

"The challenges are enormous, and we aren't going to solve all our problems overnight," President Macri said. "The elections are over. The time has come to unite and overcome what divides us," he said.

Watch video 01:41

Macri promises economic reforms

As indication of a serious and increasingly personal dispute, the outgoing president Cristina Fernandez had disagreed with the arrangements for the handover of power, saying it was a waste of time for Macri to take the oath of office at Congress and then travel to the Casa Rosada presidential palace to receive the presidential sash and scepter.

Macri took the dispute to court, which ruled in his favor. Kirchner said she would not attend and Macri was the first president not to receive the emblems of power from his predecessor since 1983 when democracy was restored in Argentina after years of military rule. Fernandez and her late husband Nestor Kirchner controlled the Argentine presidency for 12 years.

Inflation is pushing 30 percent, foreign reserves are low and a long-running dispute with US creditors has marginalized Latin America's third largest economy from international credit markets.

The son of a wealthy businessman, Macri danced on the balcony of the iconic Casa Rosada presidential palace as he celebrated the start of his presidency. It had been the location for some of the most memorable and rallying speeches by former leaders such as Juan and Eva Peron to assembled massed crowds.

Inaugural address

The 56-year-old Macri set out his agenda for change: "This government will know how to defend freedom, which is essential for democracy," he said. He said he would fight "tirelessly for those who need it most" confirming his campaign pledges to maintain Kirchners' popular social programs.

But Macri has also signaled the end to protectionist import restrictions, a reduction in taxes on agricultural exports and an end to the official exchange rate supporting the Argentine currency, the peso.

Macri promised to fight the nation's growing illegal drug trade "as no president has before" and be ruthless in cracking down on corruption. He said the education system needed modernizing at all levels.

He also said he would improve relations with the United States and the international financial community.

But Macri has not seen the last of the retiring president. Fernandez' party still controls the Senate and has the largest bloc in the lower house. In the weeks ahead of the handover, Fernandez rushed through dozens of bills in Congress, appointed ambassadors and public workers and cut some taxes in the provinces. Kirchner's sister-in-law, Alicia Kirchner, is state governor in Patagonia.

Kirchner herself is allowed under the Constitution to run for a third term in 2019. She made her farewell speech on Thursday in the Plaza de Mayo:

jm/bw (AFP, AP)

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