BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) — The new president of Malawi was inaugurated Monday after an election that was disputed by his predecessor.
President Peter Mutharika said he wanted to reconcile with former leader Joyce Banda, who did not attend the inauguration at a sports stadium in Blantyre, Malawi's commercial capital. He told cheering supporters that he was sorry she did not come to the ceremony to officially hand over power.
"I came to her with an olive branch in my hand," Mutharika said. "Don't let it drop from my hand."
Banda had sought to annul the May 20 vote because of what she said were irregularities and had called for another election in which she said she would not participate. A court said her move was invalid.
Mutharika is the 74-year-old leader of the Democratic Progressive Party and brother of a president who died in 2012. He is a lawyer and a former foreign minister.
The inauguration was a colorful affair, featuring live music, traditional dances, a 21-gun salute and fly-overs by military helicopters and jets.
Mutharika comes to power at a time when the impoverished country is struggling with fallout from a financial scandal dubbed "Cashgate." Investigators say millions of dollars in public funds were siphoned off by politicians and businessmen in collusion with civil servants.
"I think our country had lost its moral compass," Mutharika said. "I think things like 'Cashgate' happen when our leaders fail to differentiate between right and wrong."
He warned that anyone who embezzles state funds will be prosecuted. Banda, who took office in 2012 after the death of Mutharika's brother, Bingu wa Mutharika, had won attention for pledging to cut back on graft. But her administration became embroiled in the financial scandal.