Juan Manuel Santos (photo, from aljazeera.net) has been sworn in as the new Colombian president.
In his inaugural speech, he said that one of his government’s main priorities would be to mend relations with neighbours Ecuador and Venezuela.
In response, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he would like to meet “face-to-face” with Mr Santos.
Mr Santos also told Colombia’s left-wing rebel groups the door to dialogue was open, but they would have to renounce violence first.
He promised to tackle the main problems besetting Colombians, saying his government would aim to lower unemployment to a single digit figure, fight corruption and reduce poverty.
Santos, who served as Alvaro Uribe’s defence minister, said that the work of his predecessor in office had paved the way for “a new dawn for Colombia”.
The new president said Uribe had inspired hope in Colombians and allowed them to move freely in their own country again.
He added that it was now time the country moved from Mr Uribe’s policy of “democratic security” to one of “democratic prosperity”.
‘Open to any kind of conversation’
The heads of the security forces were asked to continue delivering results in their battle against left-wing rebels and drug traffickers.
However he made it clear to the rebels, who have been fighting a 46-year insurgency against the Colombian state, that he did not rule out dialogue completely.
“To the armed illegal groups, who invoke political reasons and now talk of dialogue and negotiation, I say my government is open to any kind of conversation which seeks to eradicate violence and build a more prosperous, equal and just society,” he said.
But he said that a dialogue would only go ahead if the rebels laid down their arms and stopped their campaign of kidnapping, intimidation, extortion and drug-dealing.
On foreign policy, he tried to mend some of the relations which broke down during his predecessor’s tenure.
In a reference to accusations by Venezuela’s president that Uribe had been planning an attack on Venezuela, Santos said that when he thought of Colombia’s relations with its neighbours, the word “war” was not in his dictionary.
Two weeks ago, Chavez broke off diplomatic ties with Colombia after Bogota accused him of harbouring Farc rebels.
Though the Venezuelan president did not attend the inauguration, he did send his Foreign Minister, Nicolas Maduro.
Speaking on live TV after Santos’ inauguration, Chavez said he wanted to “turn over the page” in relations with Colombia, adding that he would be seeking a “face-to-face” meeting with Mr Santos.
The new Colombian president also appealed to Ecuador. The country’s president, Rafael Correa, was in the audience.
Ecuador cut its ties with Bogota after the Colombian military conducted a cross-border bombing raid on a Farc camp that was located on Ecuadorian territory.
“Every country in our region has great strength, but together we can be a formidable power,” he added.