PARAMARIBO (Reuters) - Desi Bouterse, a former military ruler convicted of drug trafficking in the Netherlands, was sworn in for a second five-year term as president of Suriname on Wednesday.
Bouterse’s National Democratic Party (NDP) in May won a slim majority in the small South American country’s National Assembly. The country’s parliament then automatically ratified the 69-year-old’s presidency, with no other candidates, in July.
“For the first time in the history of Suriname, we as a people can try to seize the opportunity to .. bring this nation to unprecedented prosperity,” said Bouterse in his inauguration speech, after which he sang Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” with a local singer.
Bouterse stressed Suriname should diversify its economy, which is heavily reliant on bauxite and gold and has a nascent oil industry, to protect against sudden commodity price swings.
The leader is expected to increase the price of water, electricity and perhaps gasoline in coming months.
Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang, neighbouring Guyana’s newly elected President David Granger and Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa were present at the ceremony.
Suriname, sandwiched between Guyana and French Guiana on the northeastern shoulder of South America, won independence from the Netherlands in 1975.
Bouterse assumed office in 2010 though previously led Suriname through the 1980s as a military ruler after he and other soldiers led a coup in 1980. Bouterse took part in another coup a decade later.
In 1999, he was convicted in absentia of drug trafficking by a court in the Netherlands. He has always denied any wrongdoing.
Bouterse also faced prosecution for the execution of 15 opponents in 1982 but the National Assembly passed an amnesty law giving him immunity in 2012.
Opponents accuse the president of cronyism and corruption.
A U.S. judge in March sentenced Bouterse’s son to 16 years in prison after he pled guilty to charges of offering a bribe to Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah.
Writing by Girish Gupta; Editing by Lisa Shumaker