Conservative billionaire Pinera sworn in as president of Chile

Chile's President Sebastian Pinera, accompanied by his wife and First Lady Cecilia Morel, waves to people at La Moneda Presidential Palace in Santiago, Chile, on March 11, 2018. (REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado)
Updated 12 March 2018
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Conservative billionaire Pinera sworn in as president of Chile

VALPARAÍSO, Chile: Conservative billionaire Sebastian Pinera was sworn in Sunday to his second term as president of Chile, replacing socialist Michelle Bachelet in the office for the second time in eight years.
An emotional Bachelet helped Pinera put on the sash of office, gave him a kiss and then left the Congress with members of her government.
Pinera, who was president from 2010-2014, has promised to stimulate growth and create jobs.
He is assuming the presidency just as Chile’s economy is showing signs of rebounding from a period of sluggish growth due to low prices for copper, the country’s biggest export.
“The good times are coming,” his supporters chanted after he was sworn in.
Bachelet was cheered by supporters as she capped a second term in office in which she saw through an ambitious package of reforms aimed at eliminating the institutional legacy of the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
Leaders from neighboring Latin American countries, including Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico and Peru — as well as the former king of Spain Juan Carlos — attended the inauguration ceremony at the congress in the coastal city of Valparaiso.
Later, the billionaire president chose a shelter for at-risk children in a depressed district of Santiago to announce his first measures as president, the reform of state protection for vulnerable children.
The new president called for a national agreement on the care of children, and said his new cabinet would for the first time include a minister for children.
He said some 1,313 minors had died in centers run by the National Service for Minors over the last decade. More than half the young people who pass through the state centers later become delinquents, according to Pinera.
The new president pledged to increase resources and subsidies to help tackle the problem.
In a Facebook message, Bachelet said she was “profoundly proud of the transformation that we pushed these years” and said she was convinced Chile today is more “just, equitable and free.”
She was Latin America’s last sitting chief of state who is a woman.
Implementing the changes she made will now be up to the 68-year-old Pinera, who says he wants to reform the Pinochet-era pension system and supports the free education system instituted by Bachelet.
“I feel I now have more experience, more maturity, more awareness of the importance of uniting Chileans; greater humility to listen, with eyes and ears that are more attentive,” he said this week.
Pinera — whose fortune has been estimated by Forbes at $2.7 billion — has promised to transform Chile into a developed economy in eight years.
The economy has grown at an average pace of two percent over the past four years, but surged 3.9 percent in January. Analysts are predicting 3.5 percent growth this year.


Macron’s ratings fall further after month of protests

Updated 16 December 2018
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Macron’s ratings fall further after month of protests

  • Many of the protesters have targeted Macron personally, calling on him to resign
  • Until last week, a clear majority of French people had backed the protests, which sprung up initially over high taxes

PARIS: A month of “yellow vest” protests have taken a further toll on the popularity of French President Emmanuel Macron, a new poll showed Sunday, with analysts saying he will be forced to change his style of governing.
Around 66,000 protesters turned out again on Saturday on the fifth round of anti-government demonstrations, which sprung up over diesel taxes last month.
The figure was about half the number of the previous weekend, suggesting momentum was waning and the most acute political crisis of Macron’s 19-month presidency was coming to an end.
“It is calming down, but what remains of it all is a strong feeling of hatred toward Macron,” said veteran sociologist Herve Le Bras from the School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS).
A major poll by the Ifop group published in Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed Macron’s approval had slipped another two points in the last month, to 23 percent.
The proportion of people who declared themselves “very dissatisfied” by his leadership jumped by six points to 45 percent.
Many of the protesters have targeted Macron personally, calling on him to resign or targeting his background as an investment banker and alleged elitism.
A different poll by Ipsos on Wednesday last week showed that a mere 20 percent of respondents were happy with his presidency, a fall of six points to its lowest ever level.
Le Bras said the protests had underlined the depth of dislike for Macron’s personality and style of governing, which critics see as arrogant and too distant.
“Even by being more humble, it’s going to be complicated,” he added.

Until last week, a clear majority of French people had backed the protests, which sprung up initially over high taxes before snowballing into a wider opposition front against Macron.
In a bid to end the standoff, he announced a package of measures for low-income workers on Monday in a televised address, estimated by economists to cost up to 15 billion euros ($17 billion).
The 40-year-old also acknowledged widespread animosity toward him and came close to apologizing for a series of verbal gaffes seen as dismissive of the poor or jobless.
Two polls published last Tuesday — in the wake of Macron’s concessions — suggested the country was now broadly 50-50 on whether the protests should continue.
“It’s a movement that has succeeded in forcing back what looked like a strong government,” Jerome Sainte-Marie, a public opinion expert at the Pollingvox group, told AFP.
“People have confidence in themselves now, so things won’t return to how they were on November 15” before the protests started, he said.
“The context in which Emmanuel Macron holds power has changed,” he added.
The former investment banker had until now styled himself as a determined pro-business reformer who would not yield to pressure from protests like his predecessors.
“Macron has given an indication that he is more open to dialogue,” Jean-Daniel Levy from the Harris Interactiv polling group told AFP.
The government has announced a six-month consultation with civil society groups, mayors, businesses and the “yellow vests” to discuss tax and other economic reforms.
Hikes in petrol and diesel taxes, as well as tougher emissions controls on old vehicles — justified on the grounds of environmental protection — were what sparked the “yellow vest” movement.
Macron “won’t necessarily change the overall course of his reforms, rather the way he carries them out,” Levy added.

In Paris on Saturday, the more than 8,000 police on duty easily outnumbered the 2,200 protesters counted by local authorities.
There were 168 arrests by early evening, far fewer than the 1,000 or so of last Saturday.
Tear gas was occasionally fired, but only a fraction compared with the weekends of December 8 or December 1 when graffiti was daubed on the Arc de Triomphe in scenes that shocked France.
Richard Ferrand, the head of the National Assembly, welcomed the “necessary” weakening of “yellow vest” rallies on Saturday, adding that “there had been a massive response to their demands.”
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner also called on protesters to halt their blockades across the country which have seen traffic and businesses disrupted.
“Everyone’s safety has to become the rule again,” he said in a tweet.
“Dialogue now needs to unite all those who want to transform France.”
He said eight people had died since the start of the movement.
Around 69,000 security forces were mobilized across France on Saturday, down from 89,000 the weekend before when 2,000 people were detained.