BLANTYRE, Malawi -- Malawi has known rule by Britain and by a mercurial dictator.

Over the last few days, however, it wasn't clear who was leading this impoverished southern African country, as doctors disclosed Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika had died though the government insisted he was only ill.

In the end, Joyce Banda, who had held on to her post of vice president despite falling out with Mutharika, was sworn in Saturday in a brief ceremony in Lilongwe, the capital.

Earlier that day, she presided over a cabinet meeting and held a news conference at which she was flanked by cabinet ministers, the army commander and national police chief.

The Malawi government only confirmed the president's death Saturday, two days after Mutharika died and a day after it was announced by doctors.

The delay in announcing Mutharika's death and allowing Banda to step in led to speculation that politicians were squabbling over succession. Banda may have to contend with powerful enemies at home as she tries to lead her country out of economic crisis and repair relations with international donors with whom Mutharika had clashed.

"I sincerely hope there is no room for revenge," Banda said after her inauguration in parliament. "We shall stand united."

Under the constitution, Banda will serve out Mutharika's term, which ends in early 2014. Mutharika first won office in 2004 and was re-elected in 2009.

Doctors said the 78-year-old Mutharika died Thursday, and his body was flown to South Africa. Taking the body to South Africa was apparently done to buy time for politicians to work out a succession plan.

When Mutharika first came to power, he was backed by his predecessor, Bakili Muluzi. A feud ensued after Mutharika had Muluzi charged with corruption and fraud. Mutharika left the ruling party to establish his own.

Political bickering between the two men led to extensive legislative delays, rioting, a failed impeachment bid and accusations of coup and assassination plots.

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