Page last updated at 17:39 GMT, Thursday, 12 March 2009

Key ministers replaced in Chile

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet (file)
President Bachelet is in the final year of her term

President Michelle Bachelet has announced key changes in Chile's cabinet, ahead of a presidential election later this year.

Foreign Minister Alejandro Foxley has resigned for personal reasons.

He will be replaced by the country's ambassador to the US, Mariano Fernandez.

Defence Minister Jose Goni will replace Mr Fernandez as US envoy, while government spokesman Francisco Vidal will take the defence portfolio.

Meanwhile, Socialist Carolina Toha becomes the new government spokeswoman.

'Tough times ahead'

Ms Bachelet paid tribute to both outgoing ministers in a televised address, calling Mr Foxley - who held the post of foreign minister since 2006 - "a good man, generous and honest".

She added: "The times ahead, as we have said, will be tough and will be decisive in successfully facing the economic crisis and its impact on Chile and to make good on pledges to the people.

"It is our duty to make the maximum effort to ensure these dreams become reality," she said, according to Reuters news agency.

But observers add that Ms Bachelet's ruling centre-left coalition is lagging in the polls and faces a tough battle to retain its hold on power in presidential elections later this year.

Ms Bachelet cannot herself run for re-election.

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