Chile's president assumes power in austere, post-quake ceremony

09:28, March 12, 2010      

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Billionaire businessman Sebastian Pinera took office as earthquake-stricken Chile's new president on Thursday in an austere ceremony without traditional banquets as in previous inaugurations.


Sebastian Pinera (2nd R, Front) waves to audience at the Congress house in Valparaiso, Chile, on March 11, 2010. Sebastian Pinera was sworn in as earthquake-stricken Chile's new president during an austere ceremony on Thursday. (Xinhua/Song Weiwei)

"Traditionally the change of president has been a party, but because of the situation the nation is experiencing, we have sought to change the meaning of the day," Pinera spokesoman Ena Von Baer said Tuesday. "We want Chilians to see us at work on the one hand and on the other feel solidarity both domestically and internationally."

The heads of state and their representatives, already fewer than previous years, that attended the ceremony were asked to leave their spouses at home.

Among the delegates, only Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay sent their presidents, while Spain's heir to the throne Felipe was present.

Chile suffered a strong 8.8 magnitude quake on Feb. 27, killing at least 529 people and flattening around 500,000 houses. It was the worst quake since the one happened in Chile in 1960 disaster, the worst ever recorded.


A man looks at the ceiling at the Congress house in Valparaiso, Chile, on March 11, 2010. Sebastian Pinera was sworn in as earthquake-stricken Chile's new president during an austere ceremony on Thursday. Outgoing President Michelle Bachelet placed the presidential sash on Pinera's shoulders at 12.18 p.m. local time, about 40 minutes after strong aftershocks, one of which measured 7.2 on the Richter scale and lasted 45 seconds, rattled the country. (Xinhua/Song Weiwei)

The ceremony took place at the nation's Congress in Valparaiso, 120 kilometers northwest of the capital Santiago. The activities then will move to the nearby resort town Vina del Mar, where the president has an official residence where he will offer "a working lunch" for guests.

After the ceremony, Pinera was to visit Constitucion, a fishing and tourism city that suffered a two-meter-high tsunami immediately after the earthquake.

"Pinera is giving out good signals, including the sober ceremony and the immediate visit to the affected areas," said Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States.

The new president will also convene a cabinet meeting to deal with the earthquake.

"It is also a good signal that he is going to begin immediately with a cabinet meeting," Insulza said.

Outgoing President Michelle Bachelet presented the newly appointed Chilian armed forces head Fuente-Abla with the saber representing his authority in a private ceremony in the Santiago Military Academy on Tuesday.


A man looks at the ceiling at the Congress house in Valparaiso, Chile, on March 11, 2010. Sebastian Pinera was sworn in as earthquake-stricken Chile's new president during an austere ceremony on Thursday. Outgoing President Michelle Bachelet placed the presidential sash on Pinera's shoulders at 12.18 p.m. local time, about 40 minutes after strong aftershocks, one of which measured 7.2 on the Richter scale and lasted 45 seconds, rattled the country. (Xinhua/Song Weiwei)

Before the quake, the military had planned a public ceremony with marching bands and military honors, which were cancelled because 14,000 soldiers are patrolling the streets of quake-hit cities to prevent looting while navy officers are focused on shipping food and shelters to coastal towns destroyed by the tsunami.

Pinera won the Jan. 17 presidential election runoff with 51.7 percent of the vote. His personal wealth of around 2 billion U.S. dollars comes largely from his ownership of national airline LAN Chile, which he has to sell in order to assume the presidency. He also had a controlling state in top Chilian soccer club Colo Colo.

Source: Xinhua
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