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Five years after Gen. Manuel Noriega was toppled by a U.S. invasion, the dictator's party has returned to power with the inauguration of Ernesto Perez Balladares as president.

Saying his party had reformed, the millionaire businessman vowed to eliminate poverty and to crack down on drug traffickers, crime and corruption."We must close at last an unfortunate chapter in our history involving Noriega," declared Perez Balladares, 48, who won a five-year term in a May 8 election widely perceived as Panama's cleanest ever.

Perez Balladares hoped to quell lingering fears of militarism within his Revolutionary Democratic Party, once a pillar of Noriega's rule. Noriega is imprisoned outside Miami on drug and racketeering charges.

Perez Balladares took over from Guillermo Endara, who claimed credit in a farewell speech for leading Panama back to economic and political stability.