Greece's first female president is sworn in

Greece’s first female president, a former high court judge, has been formally sworn in to office, nearly two months after the country’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to elect her

ATHENS, Greece -- Greece’s first female president, a former high court judge, was formally sworn in to office Friday, nearly two months after the country’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to elect her.

The swearing-in ceremony for Katerina Sakellaropoulou, 63, took place in an almost empty parliament, as part of measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. Only a handful of officials and a limited number of journalists were present.

Greece has shut down schools, universities, cinemas, theaters, gyms and nightclubs, and authorities have warned people to stay home and avoid large gatherings in an effort to contain the outbreak. The country so far has 117 confirmed cases and one death. The ceremony was being covered live on state television.

After the swearing-in, Sakellaropoulou lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the square outside parliament, before a presidential honor guard. Despite the warnings about the virus, a small crowd gathered to watch, standing behind a security cordon across the street.

The new president headed the Council of State, the country's highest administrative court, since 2018. She takes over the five-year presidency from veteran conservative politician Prokopis Pavlopoulos.

In a brief speech at the presidential palace, Sakellaropoulou spoke of the battle against the coronavirus and the recent migration crisis as the country's two main challenges.

Greece must continue to adhere to its democratic principles and the state of law, moving toward “a future of prosperity that will have room for us all,” she said.

Greece, Sakellaropoulou said, must “secure the integrity of our borders while also defending and fulfilling our humanitarian duty toward defenseless and desperate people, a difficult but not impossible equation.”

She also called on all Greeks to strictly adhere to all guidance given by health authorities to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis nominated Sakellaropoulou as a non-partisan candidate who would enjoy broad support from across the political spectrum. All major parties voted in favor, with Sakellaropoulou being elected to the largely ceremonial post in a 261-33 vote in January, well above the 200 votes required. Six lawmakers were absent.

“It is time for the women of this country to realize that they can attain their dreams, on their own merits, without facing obstacles simply because they were born women.”