Chile’s new leader Sebastian Pinera to be sworn in

Chilean tycoon Sebastian Pinera is due to be sworn in as president of the country, which was recently devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunami.

Sebastian Pinera in Santiago, March 2010

Mr Pinera not only faces the challenge of reconstruction, but takes over from a highly popular outgoing leader.

Michelle Bachelet leaves office with a record 84% popularity rating despite criticism of the government’s slow reaction to last month’s disaster.

Meanwhile, Chile’s disaster management chief has resigned over the response.

Carmen Fernandez is the second Chilean official to leave her post in the aftermath of the 27 February quake and ensuing tsunami that killed close to 500 people.

On Friday, Ms Bachelet dismissed the head of the navy’s oceanography service for failing to provide a clear warning of the tsunami.

Thousands homeless

The inauguration ceremony in the port city of Valparaiso is set to be an austere affair. The planned dinner has been cancelled and the whole event scaled back out of respect for victims of the quake.

Ms Bachelet, Chile’s first woman president, was constitutionally barred from seeking re-election.

She will hand the red, white and blue presidential sash to Mr Pinera, whose presidential win ended 20 years of centre-left rule in Chile.

Seldom can an incoming president have faced such a massive and immediate challenge, says the BBC’s Gideon Long in Santiago.

Thousands of people have been made homeless by the quake, and around half a million homes destroyed.

“We won’t be the government of the earthquake, we’ll be the government of reconstruction,” the 60-year-old billionaire said recently.

Last month, the conservative leader named his cabinet, leaving out any figures linked with the former military ruler, Augusto Pinochet.

In his election campaign, Mr Pinera said he would focus on boosting economic growth and producing jobs while continuing with the outgoing president’s social policies.

Mr Pinera is one of the country’s richest men. He made his fortune introducing credit cards to Chile, then went on to buy a television channel, a stake in Chile’s most successful football club, and put millions of dollars into other investments.

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