| 7.7°C Belfast

Greece’s first female president sworn in at almost empty parliament

The ceremony for Katerina Sakellaropoulou came amid fears over the spread of the coronavirus.

Close

Newly sworn-in President Katerina Sakellaropoulou stands for the Greek National anthem during a handover ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Friday, March 13, 2020. Greece’s first female president, a former high court judge, was formally sworn in to office Friday, nearly two months after the country’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to elect her. (Alkis Konstantinidis/Pool via AP)

Newly sworn-in President Katerina Sakellaropoulou stands for the Greek National anthem during a handover ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Friday, March 13, 2020. Greece’s first female president, a former high court judge, was formally sworn in to office Friday, nearly two months after the country’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to elect her. (Alkis Konstantinidis/Pool via AP)

Newly sworn-in President Katerina Sakellaropoulou stands for the Greek National anthem during a handover ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Friday, March 13, 2020. Greece’s first female president, a former high court judge, was formally sworn in to office Friday, nearly two months after the country’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to elect her. (Alkis Konstantinidis/Pool via AP)

Greece’s first female president has been formally sworn in to office, nearly two months after parliament voted overwhelmingly to elect her.

The ceremony for Katerina Sakellaropoulou, 63, took place in an almost empty parliament, as part of measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. Only a handful of officials and a limited number of journalists were present.

Katerina Sakellaropoulou takes the oath
Katerina Sakellaropoulou takes the oath (Thanassis Stavrakis/AP)

Greece has shut down schools, universities, cinemas, theatres, gyms and nightclubs, and authorities have warned people to stay home and avoid large gatherings in an effort to contain the outbreak.

The country so far has 117 confirmed cases and one death.

After the swearing-in, covered live on state television, the former high court judge lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the square outside parliament, before a presidential honour guard.

Despite warnings about the virus, a small crowd gathered to watch, standing behind a security cordon across the street.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

The new president had headed the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, since 2018. She takes over the five-year presidency from veteran conservative Prokopis Pavlopoulos.

In a brief speech at the presidential palace, Ms Sakellaropoulou spoke of the battle against the coronavirus and the migration crisis as the country’s two main challenges.

Greece must continue to adhere to its democratic principles and the state of law, moving towards “a future of prosperity that will have room for us all”, she said.

In a clear reference to neighbouring Turkey, she said Greece was being called on to “thwart the aggression of those who, using human pain, want to harm our national sovereignty”.

Turkey recently declared its borders to Europe were open, and encouraged thousands of refugees and other migrants to try to push into Greece.

Katerina Sakellaropoulous with her predecessor Prokopis Pavlopoulos
Katerina Sakellaropoulou with her predecessor Prokopis Pavlopoulos (Alkis Konstantinidis/AP)

Clashes with Greek border guards have frequently broken out, and Athens has come under criticism for occasionally using heavy-handed tactics in response.

Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis nominated Ms Sakellaropoulou as a non-partisan candidate who would enjoy broad support across the political spectrum. All major parties voted in favour and she was elected to the largely ceremonial post in a 261-33 vote in January, well above the 200 votes required.

Greece has a low number of women in senior positions in politics, and Mr Mitsotakis had been criticised for selecting a nearly all-male cabinet after he won general elections in July 2019. In the current Greek cabinet, all but one of the 18 senior positions are held by men.

“I hope that the election of a woman for the first time to the highest position of the country will improve the position of all women in the country, both in the family and in society,” Ms Sakellaropoulou said.

“It is time for the women of this country to realise that they can attain their dreams, on their own merits, without facing obstacles simply because they were born women.”

PA