Former independence fighter and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jose Ramos-Horta was sworn in as president of East Timor ahead of celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of independence for Asia’s youngest country.
Crowds cheered late Thursday night as Ramos-Horta travelled by motorcade to parliament, where a ceremony kicked off nationwide festivities commemorating the country’s 2002 independence from Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975.
Ramos-Horta, 72, who led the resistance during Indonesia’s occupation, called for national reconciliation and unity as he took the oath of office shortly before midnight local time, the time that the country declared independence 20 years ago.
“Today more than ever, we must be fully aware that only in unity will be able to achieve the development goals that we propose,” Ramos-Horta said.
The new president pledged to reduce poverty, improve health services for mothers and children, and promote a dialogue to restore political stability. He said he expects East Timor, formally known as Timor-Leste, to become the 11th member of the regional bloc the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the next two years.
In a wide-ranging speech delivered in four languages, Ramos-Horta called for national unity between rival parties that have had a tumultuous relationship in recent years.