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Chilean Government to Fulfill Campaign Promises Despite Major Quake

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Chile's new government, which took office on Thursday, intends to fulfill its campaign promises despite the impact of the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that hit the country on Feb. 27, Ena von Baer Jahn, the cabinet's secretary- general, said Friday.

"The reconstruction group is working. They already had a meeting that started at 1:00 a.m.," von Baer said. "Alongside this we are trying to make progress on the measures in the promised program that Chileans voted for in January."

During his election campaign, Chile's new President Sebastian Pinera promised to create 1 million new jobs, boost economic growth to 6 percent a year and increase investment to 28 percent of gross domestic product.

The massive earthquake that killed at least 497 people implies at least 30 billion dollars of reconstruction work, according to Pinera, who held his first press conference as president earlier on Friday.

The new president's swearing-in ceremony was delayed by three aftershocks that measured between 6.0 and 7.2 on the Richter scale and caused fresh damage in Rancagua, in the central region of O' Higgins. The Feb. 27 quake struck hardest the southern regions of Maule and Bio Bio.

Von Baer said that the priority in coming days would be education and housing, but each ministry has formed its own committee that will formulate a reconstruction policy and find ways to cut spending and guarantee reconstruction funding.

"It is important to restart education in the quake-hit areas as soon as possible, and housing is needed as soon as possible ahead of the winter," she added.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which had worked closely with the government, estimated that 500,000 homes are no longer usable. In the quake- hit regions, Chile's winter will bring heavy rains that can sweep away tents that many are using for shelter, especially in coastal areas struck by a tsunami triggered by the quake.

(Xinhua News Agency March 13, 2010)


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