The ceremony at the presidential palace in Kabul marked the country's first democratic transfer of power and opened a new era after the rule of Hamid Karzai, president since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001.

The June presidential election was engulfed in disputes over fraud, but international donors welcomed today's inauguration as a key legacy of the costly military and civilian intervention in Afghanistan.

NATO's US-led combat mission will end in three months but the Taliban still pose a serious threat to national stability, having launched several fresh offensives in recent months.

 

"We ask opponents of the government, specially the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami (another militant group), to enter political talks," Ghani said after being sworn in.

"Any problems that they have, they should tell us, we will find a solution. We ask every villager to call for peace. We ask Muslim scholars to advise the Taliban, and if they don't listen to their advice, they should cut off any relations."

Karzai also pursued peace talks with the Taliban, but preliminary efforts collapsed last year when a Taliban office that opened in Qatar was styled as an embassy for a government-in-exile.

The security threat in Kabul was underlined by a suicide attack near the airport today in which police said four civilians were killed. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

Afghan dignitaries gathered at the palace from early morning with helicopters buzzing overhead ferrying a guest-list of low-level foreign representatives.

John Podesta, counselor to President Barack Obama, led a 10-strong US delegation, with President Mamnoon Hussain representing Pakistan and Vice President Hamid Ansari travelling from India.

Many other countries, including Britain and France, were represented only by their diplomats in Kabul, while China sent Yin Weimin, minister of human resources.


Both Ghani and his poll rival Abdullah Abdullah claimed to have won the election, plunging Afghanistan into months of crisis that fuelled the insurgency and worsened the country's dire economic outlook.

Under heavy pressure from US and UN, the two candidates eventually agreed to form a "national unity government", and Ghani was declared president a week ago after an audit of nearly eight million ballot papers.

Abdullah was sworn in today as "chief executive", a new role similar to a prime minister, as part of a power-sharing deal that is likely to cause friction between opposing camps within the government.

 

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