HARARE - Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in as Zimbabwe's president on Friday, marking the final chapter of a political drama that toppled his predecessor Robert Mugabe after a military takeover.
Mnangagwa, until recently one of Mugabe's closest allies, took the oath of office at the national sports stadium on the outskirts of Harare to an explosion of cheering from the full-to-capacity crowd.
"I Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa swear that as the president of the republic of Zimbabwe I will be faithful to Zimbabwe and obey, uphold and defend the constitution and all other laws of Zimbabwe," he said as he took the oath of office before the chief justice.
He then received the chain and sash of office, and took salutes and pledges of allegiance from the country's military and security chiefs.
Mnangagwa, 75, had said this week that Zimbabweans were witnessing "a new and unfolding full democracy", although critics say he is a hardliner in the ruling ZANU-PF who gained power in a de facto military coup.
He is known as "The Crocodile" for his ruthlessness and is accused of overseeing ethnic massacres and political violence.
- 'The people have spoken' -
"We are excited and expecting a lot from Mnangagwa. We have been under a dictatorship for a very long time," 23-year-old Sharon Mauyakufa said, referring to Mugabe.
The 93-year-old former president, who ruled the southern African country for 37 autocratic years, was ousted when the military intervened after he had sacked Mnangagwa as vice president on November 6.
"We thank you our soldier," said one banner in the sports ground. "The people have spoken," said another.
A group of elderly women dressed in blue and white gyrated in time to a big band to wild applause from the crowds ahead of the swearing in.
Snipers had taken up positions around the stadium amid tight security as jubilant Mnangagwa supporters streamed in, many dancing as music played. - Mugabe in frail health -
Mugabe is in increasingly frail health and had been positioning his wife Grace as his successor, but the army chiefs acted to halt the plan and usher in Mnangagwa.
State-run media had earlier claimed that Mugabe may even attend his successor's swearing-in -- but later suggested that after he and Mnangagwa talked about the inauguration, he agreed he "needed time to rest".
Mnangagwa also "assured him and his family maximum security and welfare" for their future as private citizens, the state-run Herald news site also reported.
Presidential spokesman George Charamba confirmed to AFP that Mugabe would not be attending.
Buses brought well-wishers to the 60,000-capacity stadium from the early hours.
Leader of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change Morgan Tsvangirai received rapturous applause as he arrived at the packed stadium. - Second post-independence leader -
At the inauguration ground, Zambian President Edgar Lungu and Botswana's President Ian Khama both did a a lap of honour to huge cheers from the stands ahead of the investiture.
Zambian independence leader Kenneth Kaunda -- who at 93 is the same age as Mugabe but is known as "Africa's Gandhi" -- received a large largest cheer.
Britain, the former colonial power, said it had sent a junior minister to the ceremony.
Regional heavyweight South Africa said President Jacob Zuma would not be present as he was hosting a visit by Angola's new head of state.
- Protection for Mugabe? -
Mugabe had ruled since Zimbabwean independence in 1980, exercising almost total authority to crush any sign of dissent.
The majority of Zimbabweans have only known life under Mugabe -- until this week the world's oldest head of state -- during a reign defined by brutality, rigged elections and international isolation.
His iron grip on power ended on Tuesday when his resignation letter was delivered to parliament, where MPs had convened to impeach him.
Mugabe was last seen in public on Friday and gave a defiant televised address on Sunday.
Neither he nor his wife Grace has been seen since, though they are expected to be given protection by the government.
In the week before Mugabe resigned, military vehicles rolled down Harare's streets, army generals made a TV address in the early hours and tens of thousands of Zimbabweans demonstrated against the veteran leader.
Zimbabwe's once-promising economy collapsed under Mugabe's rule, and many hope Mnangagwa will push through reforms to bring in investment.
Unemployment is over 90 percent, and in his first speech after being announced as the next president he promised "jobs, jobs, jobs!"