New Chile Earthquake Rattles Presidential Swearing-In

Article excerpt

A 7.2-magnitude Chile earthquake rattled the swearing-in ceremony of President Sebastian Pinera, the country's first conservative president in more than 50 years.

Less than two weeks after being walloped by a massive 8.8- magnitude quake that killed some 500 people and famously jolted Earth's axis, Chile put the finishing touches Thursday on a momentous political shake-up as well.

Billionaire businessman Sebastian Pinera became Chile's first elected conservative president in more than half a century, putting an official end to rule by the Concertacion, a center-left coalition that has governed since dictator Augusto Pinochet relinquished power in 1990.

But the austere ceremony - already scaled back in remembrance of quake victims - was marred by a series of aftershocks, including a 7.2-magnitude quake that struck at 11.40 a.m. local time.

IN PICTURES: Thursday's earthquake in Chile

As regional leaders looked on, Mr. Pinera bowed his head to receive Chile's red, white, and blue presidential sash, the property for the past four years of Michelle Bachelet, Chile's first female head of state. The two then stood for the Chilean national anthem - at the same time as residents in coastal communities such as Concepcion and Constitucion scrambled for the hills under a new tsunami warning.

Uribe, Morales look on; Chavez stays away

Among the many visiting regional leaders were Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a natural ally to Pinera, and Bolivian head of state Evo Morales, a far leftist with whom the new Chilean president at least shares a passion for soccer. The two played a match together Wednesday. One notable absence was Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, whom Pinera recently criticized as having a "different conception" of democracy.

Pinera is scheduled to address the nation this evening, when he is expected to outline plans for reconstructing a country still reeling from the Feb. 27 earthquake and resulting tsunami waves. The president's speech is also likely to focus on national unity, a message he has consistently pushed since winning the presidency in a tight Jan. 17 runoff against the Concertacion's Eduardo Frei.

Shortly after the ceremonies, Pinera spoke with reporters. "In the middle of this pain, suffering, and uncertainty, and of course without forgetting about those who have lost their lives, I want to call on my fellow countrymen to dry your tears and get down to work," he said. …