Indonesian president gets rock star welcome at inauguration

Joko Widodo, Indonesia's first president from outside the political and military elite, got a rock-star welcome from a cheering crowd at a celebration marking his inauguration Monday but takes power facing challenges to enact an ambitious reform agenda. As night fell, Widodo, sworn in as leader of the world's third-biggest democracy earlier in the day, ran on stage in front of about 50,000 supporters at a park in central Jakarta, grinning broadly and raising his hands in the air. "We must realise that Indonesia is a great nation but it has to be run well, it has to be run for the prosperity of the people," said the leader, known by his nickname Jokowi and famed for his man of the people image. "I invite everyone in society to unite and work together to achieve what we have dreamt of -- creating a strong, prosperous and dignified Indonesia." The inauguration capped a remarkable rise from an upbringing in a riverside slum for the 53-year-old former furniture exporter, who won the presidency in July after a close race against controversial ex-general Prabowo Subianto. The former Jakarta governor is the country's first leader since the end of Suharto's three decades of dictatorship in 1998 to have no major links to that era. Hopes are high for a new style of leadership in Indonesia, but there are also fears an opposition-dominated parliament could make it hard for Widodo to enact reforms to revive the G20 economy and help society's poorest. Monday was marked by festivities, with Widodo riding through Jakarta in a horse-drawn carriage after being sworn in at a ceremony attended by dignitaries including US Secretary of State John Kerry and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. In his inauguration speech, he appealed for unity after the country's most bitterly fought election and sought to reach out to his foes. He referred to Prabowo as "my best friend" and the ex-general responded by standing up and giving a salute, the latest sign of a thaw between the pair that could help smooth the path of Widodo's reforms. - Short-lived euphoria - After Widodo's appearance on stage in Jakarta, he headed to the presidential palace to meet several world leaders, while the huge crowd at the park watched a rock concert. Despite an initial plan for Widodo to join bands on stage, he had not returned by late Monday and appeared to have abandoned the plan after a gruelling day. About 24,000 police and troops were deployed to secure the day's events but there was no sign of trouble and the atmosphere was festive. The euphoria of the inauguration is likely to be short-lived, however, as Widodo faces up to the task of leading the world's fourth most populous country, with 250 million people spread over more than 17,000 islands, at a critical moment. The growth rate in Southeast Asia's top economy is at a five-year low, corruption remains rampant and fears are mounting that support for the Islamic State group could spawn a new generation of radicals in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country. Kerry's attendance was in part aimed at seeking support from Indonesia and other Southeast Asian nations in the fight against the extremists, who have taken over vast swathes of Iraq and Syria. Widodo's first test will be to reduce the huge fuel subsidies that eat up about a fifth of the nation's budget, a move which economists say is urgently needed but which risks sparking street protests. Prospects for his ambitious reforms dimmed in recent weeks after Prabowo's supporters in parliament used their majority to abolish the direct election of local leaders, a move opposed by Widodo, and to win key posts in the legislature. Prabowo's appearance at the inauguration, and an unexpected meeting with Widodo Friday during which he pledged support, have raised hopes that tensions are easing. But observers say the ex-general may still oppose the new leader's policies. Widodo is expected to announce his new cabinet later in the week.

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