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The BBC's James Reynolds reports
"His first priority will be to tackle Chile's social problems"
 real 28k

Sunday, 12 March, 2000, 03:35 GMT
Chile's new leader regrets coup 'tragedy'
Lagos and his wife on the Moneda Palace balcony
President Lagos has promised respect for human rights
Chile's new socialist President, Ricardo Lagos, has paid tribute to his predecessor, Salvador Allende, who died during the coup led by General Augusto Pinochet.

President Lagos, who was sworn in earlier on Saturday, was speaking from the balcony of La Moneda, the presidential palace in Santiago where President Allende died in 1973.

The pinochet File
"From this balcony, many men have addressed the nation. One of them died in this building, and he merits our respect," said Mr Lagos - the first Socialist to be elected to the presidency since the coup.

In a speech interrupted by chants of "put Pinochet on trial", President Lagos promised to build a Chile where human rights were respected.

He referred to Chile's 17 years under military rule as "the biggest political tragedy of the 20th century" - though he did not refer to the former dictator by name.

Anti-Pinochet demo in Santiago
Opponents of Pinochet demand he is jailed
"I will be the president of all Chileans, rich and poor ... civilian and military," the new president told the 10,000-strong crowd.

His presidency was inaugurated in the Congress building in the port city of Valparaiso earlier on Saturday.

He succeeds Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei, and is the third democratically-elected president since General Pinochet stepped down in 1990.

Opposed Pinochet

Mr Lagos became well known in 1988, when he worked to defeat a referendum that would have extended General Pinochet's power until the turn of the century.

Correspondents say Mr Lagos - who gained only 51% of the vote in January's election - will have to tread carefully to heal the sharp political differences within Chilean society.

Ricardo Lagos and Eduardo Frei
Outgoing President Eduardo Frei congratulates his successor
A confrontation with the military could be looming, as Mr Lagos wants the presidency to have the power to dismiss the chief of the armed forces.

The new president is believed to be displeased over the show of strength mounted by the military just over a week ago, to welcome General Pinochet home after 16 months under arrest in the United Kingdom.

Social agenda

President Lagos has promised to put a greater emphasis on tackling social problems, on reducing crime and unemployment, and on improving health and education.

Pinochet in wheelchair
General Pinochet faces new medical tests
Whether he can do this depends largely on how fast Chile recovers from its first recession in 15 years, sparked by the 1997/8 Asian economic crisis.

On the tricky question of General Pinochet, Mr Lagos has said that the country's courts will decide the former ruler's fate.

A Chilean judge considering more than 60 civil lawsuits against the general has said he intends to pursue a prosecution.

New medical tests will have to be carried out according to Chilean law, which states that anyone over 70 facing legal action must undergo a medical examination.

Those found to be insane or suffering from dementia are exempt from standing trial.

As General Pinochet is a life senator, he was entitled to attend the inauguration - but he was not present.

"It was obviously better that he did not attend the ceremony," Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear told reporters.

Mrs Alvear was one of 16 cabinet ministers who took the oath of office after President Lagos had been sworn in.

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17 Jan 00 | Americas
Profile: Ricardo Lagos
05 Mar 00 | Americas
Stark choice for Pinochet
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