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Gillard sworn in as Australian PM

Julia Gillard has been officially sworn in as Australian Prime Minister, the first woman ever elected to the post.

Ms Gillard, a 48-year-old atheist, is also the first prime minister in the 109-year history of the Australian federation to take an affirmation of office instead of swearing on a Bible.

She was sworn in alongside ex-PM Kevin Rudd, whom she ousted in an internal party mutiny in June and she then led her Labour Party to a narrow election victory last month.

Ms Gillard appointed Mr Rudd as her foreign minister, fulfilling a promise to include him in a senior role in her cabinet.

Before they were sworn in by governor-general Quentin Bryce, Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd announced he will visit Washington and New York from this Friday until September 25.

"This visit underlines the very high priority that the government places on its relations with the United States, Australia's key strategic partner," a joint statement said.

Mr Rudd, a 53-year-old former diplomat to Beijing who speaks fluent Mandarin, endeavoured during almost three years as prime minister to elevate Australia's influence in global affairs, and lobbied to gain Australia a temporary seat on the UN Security Council.

He will stand in for Ms Gillard in representing Australia at the UN General Assembly while in New York. It will be the third time he has addressed the Assembly.

Opposition politicians have already criticised Ms Gillard for staying at home to focus on domestic issues. Her government is the first in 67 years to rule without a parliamentary majority, and the defection of a single politician could bring it down.

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