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Frei sweeps Chilean poll

SANTIAGO - Chilean newspapers yesterday hailed Eduardo Frei's overwhelming victory in presidential elections, as he said his first act on taking power would be to work to end poverty. Final results showed that Mr Frei, the candidate of Concertacion, the ruling centre-left coalition, won 58.01 per cent of Saturday's vote, crushing Arturo Alessandri, his right-wing rival, who took only 24.39 per cent.

'Frei president, highest majority since 1931,' said El Mercurio, Chile's biggest-selling daily. Mr Frei, who will take over from Patricio Aylwin in March, told the paper that his first step on taking power would be to work to end poverty: 'On 12 March, I want to announce a plan to fight extreme poverty in Chile, with very precise measures.'

But Mr Frei, whose father was president of Chile from 1964 to 1970, refused to say whether he would ask the former dictator General Augusto Pinochet to quit as commander-in-chief of the army.

Mr Frei's huge presidential victory did not translate into an overwhelming congressional majority, on account of voting rules set out in a constitution written when the military were in power. The balance of forces in Congress remained roughly the same after the elections, according to official results, with the right wing holding a blocking majority, in part thanks to eight senators appointed by the military to serve until 1997.

Like President Aylwin, who is also a member of Concertacion, Mr Frei will be forced to seek backing from the opposition to push through any significant reforms. 'We will build a broad consensus with the opposition. The opposition must be respected. That guarantees democracy,' Mr Frei said.