BUENOS AIRES - Business-friendly conservative Mauricio Macri was sworn in as Argentina’s new president Thursday, turning the page on 12 years under left-wing power couple Nestor and Cristina Kirchner.

The oath of office was administered by incoming Senate speaker Federico Pinedo, who had served as provisional president since midnight after a court ruled Kirchner’s term officially ended on Wednesday. Kirchner, irate over the spat, boycotted the inauguration along with her allies in Congress. “This government will know how to defend freedom, which is essential for democracy,” Macri vowed in an inaugural address that laid out a sweeping agenda for change. He also promised to fight “untiringly for those who need it most,” a nod to his campaign pledges to keep the Kirchners’ popular social programs.

Macri, 56, won a November 22 run-off election against Kirchner’s chosen successor, Daniel Scioli. The son of a wealthy businessman, he rose to fame as the president of Argentina’s most popular football club, Boca Juniors, during a storied string of trophy wins. The mayor of Buenos Aires since 2007, he won election at the head of a coalition called “Let’s Change.”

Macri, 56, wanted to take the oath of office at Congress, then travel the 2km to the iconic presidential palace, the Casa Rosada, to receive the presidential sash and sceptre from Kirchner.

Kirchner, 62, insisted the whole thing could be done at Congress - in line with the constitution and the tradition she and Nestor set out, she argued.

She accused Macri of disrespecting her when they discussed the matter on the phone.

“It makes no sense to change venues to hand over three things. Once he takes the oath of office, it takes 38 seconds to hand over the emblems. Somebody seems to be getting a little carried away,” said her cabinet chief, Anibal Fernandez.

Determined to have his moment in the sun at the famous pink palace where iconic leaders like Juan and Evita Peron rallied the masses of yore, Macri took the matter to court, arguing Kirchner would in fact cease to be Argentine president at midnight.

The court ruled in his favor, deciding that the country would have three presidents in a matter of hours: Kirchner until midnight, incoming Senate speaker Federico Pinedo until the inauguration ceremony, and Macri thereafter.

It was a symbolic conclusion to the divisive Kirchner’s eight years in office, which were marked by her confrontational style and distaste for compromise.

Macri has vowed to take the country in a very different direction. “There’s a sea change coming,” he vowed on November 22, when he won a run-off election against Kirchner’s chosen successor, Daniel Scioli.

He has named a like-minded cabinet, with ministers from the ranks of companies like IBM, Shell, General Motors and Deutsche Bank.

He also scored a win with the resignation of central bank chief Alejandro Vanoli, who had questioned Macri’s plans to let the peso float, likely leading to a sharp devaluation.

He replaced him with economist and former banker Federico Sturzenegger.

Macri’s administration will be tasked with finding an exit from Argentina’s drawn-out fight with American hedge funds that are demanding full repayment of debt that Buenos Aires defaulted on in 2001.

The messy legal battle has derailed the country’s efforts to restructure its debt and left it cut off from global capital markets.

Macri, the son of a wealthy businessman, rose to fame as the president of Argentina’s most popular football club, Boca Juniors, during a storied string of trophy wins.

The twice-divorced father of four, who is married to a former model, had been Buenos Aires mayor since 2007.

His victory has political analysts talking about a possible “realignment” in Argentine politics.

Since the end of the country’s 1976-1983 dictatorship, he is only the third leader elected from outside the “Peronist” movement founded by Juan Peron, the towering figure of 20th-century Argentina.

The other two failed to finish their terms - an unsettling reminder of the difficulties Macri could face in dealing with Peronist labor unions, governors and lawmakers.

His room for maneuver will be limited by Congress, where the Peronists will be the largest party in the lower house and have an absolute majority in the Senate.

But, in a sign of the right’s new momentum, his ally Maria Eugenia Vidal took office Thursday as governor of the powerful province of Buenos Aires - the first time a non-Peronist has won the post in 28 years.