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Mauricio Macri sworn in as Argentina's new president

Mauricio Macri has been sworn in as president of Argentina, taking over from the country's outgoing leader Cristina Fernandez.

Mr Macri, the former mayor of Buenos Aires who hails from one of Argentina's richest families, took the oath of office in Congress in front of legislators, several Latin American heads of state and other dignitaries, including former Spanish King Juan Carlos I.

"Today a dream is being achieved," said Mr Macri as he took the oath 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

The new president then launched into a speech that was both a long list of promises and a frank, if not brutal, assessment of how he saw Argentina, a country rich in natural resources that has also suffered several major economic meltdowns.

Mr Macri said said "lying about and hiding" the state of the economy had tarnished Argentina's reputation worldwide, a clear dig at the Fernandez administration.

"I will always be honest with you," Mr Macri told the nation. "And being honest means telling you that the challenges in front of us are enormous."

The 56-year-old ran on promises to usher in an era of more civil discourse and roll back much of the Fernandez administration spending that many economists say has brought Argentina to the brink of another financial crisis.

Throughout his campaign, Mr Macri argued that measured free-market reforms would overhaul the struggling economy. He also promised to be a leader "who listens more and talks less," a clear contrast with Ms Fernandez, who frequently blasted opponents during hours-long speeches.

In his address, Mr Macri promised to fight the nation's growing drug trade "as no president has before". He also said he would make good on his aim to achieve "zero poverty" in the country and be ruthless in cracking down on corruption.

Ms Fernandez, and before her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, dominated Argentina's political landscape for the last 12 years. The power couple sharply increased spending on social welfare programmes while raising tariffs in attempts to protect local industries and aligning the country with leftist leaders like late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales.

Mr Macri has promised to undo many of those policies and improve relations with the United States.

While a Macri presidency represents a seismic change in both Argentina and the region, enacting his reforms will prove difficult.

Inflation is around 30%, foreign reserves are dangerously low for the third largest economy in Latin America and a long-time spat with a group of creditors in the US has kept Argentina on the margins of international credit markets.

Mr Macri will be wedged in by campaign promises to lift deeply unpopular restrictions on buying US dollars, and thus eliminate a booming black market that has made it difficult for local businesses to operate. The lifting of restrictions will likely lead to a devaluation of the Argentine peso, a scary proposition in a country that defaulted on 100 billion US dollars in debt during a 2001-2002 financial crisis that thrust half the population into poverty.

Mr Macri will have to manoeuvre without majorities in either chamber of Congress. And Ms Fernandez has made clear she will be a stiff opponent.

In recent weeks, she rushed dozens of bills through Congress, appointed ambassadors and many other public workers and cut some taxes on the provinces, which will all make Mr Macri's initial months more difficult.

Ms Fernandez did not attend the inauguration in a final sign of confrontation. Her decision to skip the ceremony was widely criticised; it was the first time since the country's return to democracy in 1983 that an outgoing president has done so.

On the surface, the row was about inauguration logistics. Mr Macri wanted to receive the presidential baton and sash from Ms Fernandez in the Casa Rosada presidential office while Ms Fernandez insisted the transfer happen in Congress.

Weeks of bickering made clear the dispute it had become personal. During her going-away speech on Wednesday night, Ms Fernandez made it sound like she had been forced out as her term expired at midnight.

"I can't talk much because after midnight I'll turn into a pumpkin," she joked.


From Belfast Telegraph