Former coup leader and dictator sworn in as Suriname's new president

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The Independent US

A former coup leader, convicted drug trafficker and accused murderer was sworn in as Suriname's president yesterday in a ceremony avoided by all the hemisphere's other leaders.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez had been expected to attend but cancelled at the last minute; the US – which has warned the new leader to respect human rights and the rule of law – sent only its ambassador.

The new president, Desi Bouterse, vowed to fight corruption and respect the nation's laws as well as the views of the political opposition. "This president will be a president for all of Suriname, no matter who they are," he said in his inaugural speech.

However, one shop owner, Sunil Oemrawsingh, was so appalled, he could not watch the ceremony. Mr Bouterse is on trial for his alleged role in the abduction and summary execution of Mr Oemrawsingh's uncle and 14 other leading citizens, all suspected enemies of the military regime, in December 1982. "I must admit, I am bitter about this," Mr Oemrawsingh said.

Mr Bouterse, 64, has loomed over Surinamese politics for three decades. He first came to power in February 1980, when he led a coup that suspended the constitution just five years after Suriname gained independence from the Netherlands.

He led another coup in 1990, three years after allowing the return to civilian rule, and remained a powerful force even after stepping down as army chief in 1992.

Mr Bouterse and nearly 20 others face charges that include murder in a case that has proceeded fitfully before a three-judge panel since November 2007.

The former dictator was scheduled to make his first appearance as a witness Friday, but the hearing was delayed – ostensibly because security forces would have been spread too thin between the inauguration and trial.