MALE, Maldives (AP) — Ibrahim Mohamed Solih took over as president of the Maldives on Saturday following a fierce political discord caused by the autocratic rule of outgoing leader Yameen Abdul Gayoom.
Thousands of people cheered Solih, from the Maldivian Democratic Party, at a swearing-in ceremony in a soccer stadium chosen to accommodate a large number of his supporters. Chief Justice Abdulla Didi administered the oath of office to the 54-year-old Solih.
The Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago known for its luxury resorts, became a multiparty democracy in 2008.
Since getting elected in 2013, Yameen had cracked down on political dissent, jailing rivals and Supreme Court justices. But he suffered an unexpected defeat at the hands of Solih in September’s presidential election.
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Neighboring India has been concerned by a growing Chinese influence under Yameen, who signed a series of infrastructure projects with Beijing.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the top foreign dignitary to attend Saturday’s ceremony. Modi is trying to reset bilateral ties that suffered during Yameen’s rule.
Solih faces a challenging task of balancing ties with powerful India and China. He will also have to battle widespread corruption and rising Islamist extremism.
Yameen’s attempt to cling to power was dashed by the Supreme Court, which dismissed his petition seeking an annulment of the election result. His party challenged the result, alleging vote rigging, fraud and corruption in the election process.
Solih was chosen as the opposition candidate in July after exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed abandoned plans to run because of a past criminal conviction that made him ineligible. On Saturday, he attended Solih’s swearing-in ceremony after his return from exile in London and Colombo, the capital of neighboring Sri Lanka.