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Hollande sworn in as French leader

Francois Hollande has taken over as France's first Socialist president since 1995, running a country worried about Europe's future and pledging to make it a fairer place.

The 57-year-old rode to the presidency on a wave of resurgent leftist sentiment amid Europe's debt woes and protests against capitalism around the world.

After ceremony steeped in tradition, Mr Hollande displayed his populist touch with a rain-soaked ride up the Champs-Elysees avenue, standing tall in his vehicle's sunroof to wave to crowds lining the streets before getting out for handshakes with adoring crowds.

Mr Hollande then left within hours on his first diplomatic foray - to Berlin, following a post-war custom for new French leaders to reach out to their German counterparts to solidify European unity. He also named a moderate member of his Socialist party, Jean-Marc Ayrault, as his prime minster.

Mr Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are in different camps, however, when it comes to solving Europe's debt crisis. While new figures showed the 17-nation eurozone has avoided a new recession, thanks largely to Germany, new political turmoil in Greece was reviving fears about the fate of their shared euro currency.

Mr Hollande is only the second Socialist president of modern France, after Francois Mitterrand's 1981-1995 tenure.

The new president immediately acknowledged the challenges he inherits: "a massive debt, weak growth, high unemployment, degraded competitiveness, and a Europe that is struggling to come out of crisis."

Mr Hollande promised to fight financial speculation and "open a new path" in Europe. With the economy in the doldrums and joblessness high, the French mood is glum and many voters are looking to the inauguration as a rare moment of national pride, and to Mr Hollande's presidency as a new opportunity to make things better.

World markets and other European leaders will be watching closely to see whether and how Mr Hollande follows through on his campaign promises, such as pulling French troops out of Afghanistan, freezing petrol prices and hiking taxes on the rich.

Crucial to his presidency will be his relationship with Mrs Merkel. After the Berlin visit, Mr Hollande heads later this week to the United States to meet President Barack Obama and attend summits of the Group of Eight and Nato.

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