Urgent: Pinera sworn in as Chilean president amid quake emergency

10:01, March 12, 2010      

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Chile's billionaire president- elect Sebastian Pinera was sworn in on Thursday in Valparaiso in the Congress, as strong aftershocks hit the South American country.

Michelle Bachelet, president until this morning, placed the presidential sash on Pinera shoulders at 12:18 p.m. local time, around 40 minutes after Chile was jolted by three strong aftershocks measuring 7.2 to 6.9 on the Richter scale. Chilean authorities issued a tsunami warning from Valparaiso to Los Lagos.

Pinera is the first right-wing president in the 20 years since Chile returned to democracy and takes over a country that is struggling to recover from the 8.8-magnitude earthquake on Feb. 27 quake that killed at least 529 people and left 500,000 homeless.

The switch of power between Pinera and Bachelet is qualified as the most austere in Chile's history, as it comes not long after a three-day national mourning observed for victims of the quake and the tsunami that followed it.

Immediately after being sworn, Pinera swore in a 22-member cabinet. Pinera and his government are expected to lead the country's post-disaster reconstruction.

In a marked difference from earlier inauguration days, Pinera is set to sit down with his cabinet as soon as the ministers are formally installed to discuss the emergency within hours of the swearing-in ceremony. Key figures in this meeting will the Finance Minister Felipe Larrain, Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter, Public Works Minister Hernan de Solminihac, and Housing Minister Magdalena Matte.

There will be a lot of pressure from Chile's citizens and media. Strong criticism has already led to the exit of three senior government officials: the junior interior minister with special responsibility for emergencies, the head of the Office for National Emergencies (Onemi), and the head of the Oceanography and Hydrology Service (OSHA).

Source: Xinhua
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