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article imageSuriname's Bouterse sworn in for new term

By AFP     Aug 12, 2015 in World

Suriname's President Desi Bouterse was sworn in Wednesday for a new five-year term, which the ex-dictator and convicted drug trafficker pledged to use to bolster the country's economic independence.

Bouterse, 69, has been the small South American country's elected leader since 2010, and previously held power in the 1980s and 1990s as a military dictator.

He was reelected unopposed by the National Assembly last month after his National Democratic Party (NDP) won a small majority at elections in May.

Bouterse vowed in his inauguration speech to foster economic growth by increasing Suriname's economic independence.

With 500,000 people, Suriname is the smallest country in South America and depends heavily on exports of its raw materials, particularly alumina.

"We as the people of Suriname now have the unprecedented opportunity to let our economy no longer be based on sharing profits from foreign-based interests," he said.

"We no longer want to depend primarily on market decisions such as the gold price controlling the price of alumina and the price of oil."

The ceremony was attended by Presidents Rafael Correa of Ecuador, David Granger of Guyana and Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea.

Socio-economic factfile on Suriname
Socio-economic factfile on Suriname
A. Reta, AFP

The vice presidents of Cuba and Venezuela and other regional officials were also on hand, as well as Ghana's former president Jerry Rawlings, a personal friend of Bouterse's.

Bouterse then swore in his cabinet, a mixture of political figures and technocrats.

Bouterse's second term comes with major challenges as the country faces financial problems caused by government overspending during his last term.

He set up a "Financial Economic Platform" two weeks ago, with representatives of labor unions, political parties and manufacturers, among others.

The task force recommended raising taxes, increasing utility prices and cutting government spending.

- Answers on 'December killings' -

As he cobbled together his ruling coalition last week -- he needed a two-thirds majority to win reelection in the National Assembly -- Bouterse also agreed to be questioned over a massacre committed during his military regime in the 1980s.

The questions will be put to him by a Dutch scientist and columnist, Dew Baboeram, whose brother, Surinamese lawyer John Baboeram, was tortured and killed by Bouterse's forces in December 1982.

The so-called "December killings," in which the regime rounded up and executed 15 opponents, have long clouded Bouterse's rule.

He was due to be court-martialled in 2007, but after repeated delays, in 2012 he signed a controversial amnesty law granting him immunity from prosecution for the killings.

Suriname's President Desi Bouterse (C) greets supporters as he walks with his wife Ingrid Waldr...
Suriname's President Desi Bouterse (C) greets supporters as he walks with his wife Ingrid Waldring during elections in Paramaribo on May 25, 2015
Louis Alfaisie, AFP/File

The interview is to be conducted over three days by the end of November and presented to Suriname's parliament on December 8, then published online.

A two-time coup leader and former international fugitive, Bouterse has long loomed large over Suriname, whether in his military fatigues and sunglasses or his sharp presidential suits.

He seized power in 1980 as a 34-year-old sergeant major.

He stepped down in 1987 under international pressure, but returned to power in 1990 in a second, bloodless coup. He left power a year later.

In 2010, Bouterse's election as president protected him from an Interpol arrest warrant issued after a Dutch court sentenced him to 11 years in prison for cocaine trafficking.

Dutch-speaking Suriname's people have roots in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.

It was colonized by the British and Dutch and gained independence from the Netherlands in 1975.

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