ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic was sworn in as Croatia's first female president on Sunday after a surprise election victory in the European Union's newest member state.
The nationalist won the largely ceremonial presidency by edging liberal incumbent Ivo Josipovic in a runoff vote in January amid deep discontent over economic woes in Croatia.
The inauguration ceremony of Grabar-Kitarovic, a former foreign minister, ambassador to Washington and an ex-assistant to the NATO secretary general, was attended by thousands of cheering supporters at a square in the old part of the capital, Zagreb. Dozens of regional leaders and foreign officials attended the event.
After taking her oath, Grabar-Kitarovic said she will work on making Croatia — which has a 20 percent unemployment rate and a six-year recession — "a rich state."
She said that after Croatia joined the EU in 2013, "I wish we start living the lives of people in the European Union."
During her election campaign she used tough words about neighboring Serbia, Croatia's foe during the war for independence in the 1990s. But on Sunday she called for resolving the differences and said all neighbors should join the EU for the sake of lasting peace in southeastern Europe.
"We are seeking for a better life in the future, without looking to the past," she said.
The victory for Grabar-Kitarovic — giving her a five-year term — boosts the chances of her center-right Croatian Democratic Union to win back power in parliamentary elections scheduled later this year.
Grabar-Kitarovic, 46, is the fourth Croatian president since independence from the former Yugoslavia. Autocratic nationalist President Franjo Tudjman and his conservative HDZ party ruled Croatia until his death in 1999, marking the start of democratization that put Croatia on track to the EU.
Dusan Stojanovic contributed.