George Abela was sworn in as the eighth President of Malta today and said he hoped that the unity shown in his appointment would be like a seed which grows to become a tree with many branches.

Dr Abela was sworn in at a special sitting of Parliament which was preceded by Pontifical Mass at St John's Co-Cathedral.

The inauguration ceremony reflected the broad support which the appointment has found. St John's was packed for the occasion and hundreds of people lined Republic Street and cheered Dr Abela as he walked from the Cathedral to the Palace under a brilliant sun which reflected the mood of the nation.

The Pontifical Mass was led by Archbishop Paul Cremona, who thanked outgoing President Eddie Fenech Adami for his service to the country. He also thanked Dr Abela for having accepted to serve the country. Members of Dr Abela's family participated in the Mass, with Dr Abela himself taking up the offerings.

Dr Fenech Adami was escorted to the Palace by the Police Cavalry and, for the last time, inspected an AFM Guard of Honour as the people applauded from around the historic square.

The swearing-in ceremony, which took place in the Grand Council Chamber, was as short as it was significant. Dr Abela was sworn in by the Speaker of the House, Louis Galea. As President, Dr Abela now forms part of Parliament and his signing of Acts of Parliament is the last stage of the legislative process.

Dr Abela swore to protect and uphold the constitution at 12.10 p.m. Trumpeters sounded a fanfare as the MPs and guests applauded. Dr Abela then read and signed a Proclamation that he had assumed the Office of President.

The sitting was then adjourned and the new President made his inauguration address.

Dr Abela said he had assumed the Office with humility and also with gratitude that, for just the second time, the House had agreed on the nomination of the President. He was also deeply grateful that his appointment had become a symbol of unity.

The presidency, along with the language and the flag, gave the country its identty as a nation which was small but proud of its sovereignty, itsdemocracy and its values, he said.

This was an independent and free country, commited to present relevant policies within the EU as well as within the Mediterranean and in the world.

The presidency, Dr Abela said, was a living symbol of moral authority. He hoped that the unity displayed for his appointment would grow like a seed which grew into a tree with branches stretching into the various areas of society.

Dr Abela said he would seek to be particularly close to the young and the old, persons with disability and those having particular needs, NGOs, the sporting community and the rest of civil society, as well as Maltese emigrants.

Dr Abela said these were tough times, not least because of the international economic crisis, which presented the country with the challeges of creating jobs, safeguarding the environment and facing the challenges of a society which recognised that it could not remain anchored to the past.

The President underscored the need to respect different points of view in a democracy, as well as the rights of minorities. At the same time, the country should safeguard its traditional values, particularly the strong family. Strong families made for a strong country.

Maltese society, he said, needed to remain an inclusive society based on social justice, which respected the emarginated and allowed space for everyone, whatever their role and their culture.

Dr Abela said paid tribute to his pedecessors and said he would follow their good example.

After his adress Dr Abela moved to the Palace balcony with Dr Fenech Adami where he acknowledged the people's applause.