(Adds quote from inaugural address, details)
By Giulia Paravicini
KINSHASA, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi was sworn in on Thursday as Democratic Republic of Congo's president, succeeding Joseph Kabila in the vast central African country's first transfer of power through an election in 59 years of independence.
Tshisekedi was taken ill during his inaugural address but returned to the stage moments after a brief pause, saying he was exhausted by the election and the emotion of the moment.
His spokesman later told Reuters that his bulletproof vest had been too tight and he had since removed it.
Tshisekedi's victory in the Dec. 30 election was marred by accusations he struck a backroom deal with the outgoing president to deny victory to another opposition candidate. Kabila and Tshisekedi's camps reject those allegations.
Tshisekedi, wearing a blue suit and dark glasses, took the oath of office before a crowd of thousands of cheering supporters, government officials and foreign ambassadors.
However, in a sign of lingering doubts about the vote's credibility, Kenya's Uhuru Kenyatta was the only foreign head of state present.
Still, the imagery of one leader handing off the presidency to another as Kabila wrapped the presidential sash around his successor was striking in a country where previous power transfers have resulted only from coups, assassination or rebellion.
In his inaugural address, Tshisekedi called for "a reconciled Congo" following the contentious election that saw him narrowly defeat another opposition leader, Martin Fayulu, and Kabila's hand-picked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.
"We want to build a strong Congo, turned toward its development in peace and security. A Congo for all, in which everyone has a place," he said.
Fayulu said he won the election by a landslide, a claim backed by Congo's Catholic Church, which deployed 40,000 observers to the polls.
However, many African and Western countries, wary that a dispute could reignite unrest in the volatile central African country, decided to recognise Tshisekedi after Congo's highest court dismissed Fayulu's fraud complaints. (Reporting By Giulia Paravicini; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Jon Boyle)
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