Chile prepares for election run-off

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Chile's presidential election appeared to be heading for a January run-off after initial projections showed a conservative billionaire leading but short of an outright victory.

Chile's Channel 13 television station said the Harvard-educated businessman, Sebastian Pinera, would face the ruling centre-left coalition's candidate, the former President, Eduardo Frei, in the second-round vote on 17 January.

Opinion polls carried out before yesterday's first-round indicated Mr Pinera, 60, would win that contest comfortably. Such a victory would mark a shift to the right in a region dominated by leftist leaders, but he is not expected to overhaul economic policies that have made Chile a model of stability.

Mr Pinera owns the Chilevision television channel, and stakes in Chile's most successful football club, Santiago's Colo Colo, and its national airline, LAN. If his bid proves successful, he would also become the first-right wing politician for half a century to win a presidential election in Chile.

Mr Pinera was runner-up in the last presidential contest in 2006, losing to the popular outgoing Socialist president, Michelle Bachelet. She is constitutionally barred from standing again in this contest. "This election pits the past against the future, stagnation against progress, division against unity," Mr Pinera said in his final campaign speech on Saturday.

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