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RAMOS TAKES OVER HELM IN PHILIPPINES

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Fidel Ramos, a shrewd political veteran who served under dictatorship and democracy, was sworn in Tuesday as president of a nation plagued by corruption, poverty and rebel violence.

It was the first peaceful transfer of power in 26 years in this nation of 65 million, a former American colony that has been the base for U.S. naval power in the Pacific since World War II."Let us begin by telling ourselves the truth," Ramos said in his 30-minute inaugural speech. "Our nation is in trouble and there are no easy answers, no easy fixes for our basic ills."

Hours before the inauguration ceremony, bombs believed planted by right-wing extremists exploded at branches of a bank owned by a Ramos supporter. Several thousand leftists marched through the streets denouncing the former defense secretary as a "fascist."

"There will be no honeymoon," leftist leader Nathaniel Santiago said.

The explosions did little damage but underscored the difficulties Ramos will have in uniting this fractious nation, faced with Marxist and Muslim insurgencies and threats from military dissidents.

Several thousand people gathered under heavy security to watch Ramos and his vice president, Joseph Estrada, take their oaths in a park near Manila Bay.

A former aide to dictator Ferdinand Marcos who went on to defend democracy, Ramos won the six-year presidency in elections last month marred by allegations of fraud.

He paid tribute to his predecessor, Corazon Aquino, whom he defended through seven coup attempts. Mrs. Aquino defied the odds and completed her term, fulfilling a pledge to hand over power to an elected successor.

Ramos promised to erase the "anti-American, anti-foreign image" that developed after the government ordered the removal of the last U.S. military base this year from the former U.S. colony, which became independent in 1946.