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Chile president elect welcomes Bolivia's Morales with soccer match, as leaders arrive

2010-03-11 08:53 BJT

SANTIAGO, March 10 (Xinhua) -- Chilean president-elect Sebastian Pinera welcomed visiting Bolivian president Evo Morales to Chilean capital Santiago with a soccer match held at the city's police soccer fields on Wednesday.

"I want to give a warm welcome to Evo Morales who I have heard is a tremendous football player," said Pinera, who resigned from the chairmanship of leading Chilean club Colo Colo in order to take up the presidency.

"I have come to congratulate you on your win and I want you to know that like any authority, the president must also have fun," said Morales, a keen football fan who campaigned to hold international matches in Bolivia, when soccer's highest authority, the International Association Football Federation (FIFA), sought to ban them on altitude grounds. "The best way to have fun is sport. Sport is education, health, fraternity and fun," Morales added.

The match marks the extension of every closer relations between the two neighbors, which have not had official diplomatic relations since the mid-1980s due to a dispute over territory that Bolivia lost to Chile in a 19th century war.

The relationship first began warming four years ago with the coming to office of Michelle Bachelet, who leaves the presidency on Thursday, when Bolivian and Chilean officials attended each others presidential inaugurations for the first time.

Also on Wednesday the presidents of Colombia, Paraguay and Uruguay arrived in Chile's capital Santiago for Pinera's inauguration.

"I cannot avoid expressing sadness for the events that have taken the lives of some many Chileans and left so many homeless," Paraguay's Fernando Lugo told media on arrival in Santiago airport. Chile suffered an earthquake measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale on Feb. 27 that killed at least 529 people.

"I know that Chile will overcome this tragedy," Uribe told media on arrival, after expressing Colombia's sympathy and solidarity with the Chileans. "We wish the great nation of Chile all success in this new phase of its democracy," he added.

Pinera is the candidate for right-wing party, the Independent Democratic Union. It is the first time that Chile has brought a right-wing head of state to office since it returned to democracy in 1990.

Uruguay's Jose Mujica also arrived on Wednesday but made no statement to the press. Prince Felipe, the heir to the Spain's throne, arrived in Santiago at around 9.00 a.m. local time representing the head of state.

Separately, Venezuela's embassy in Santiago said publicly that Hugo Chavez will not attend Pinera's inauguration. Chavez and Pinera battled in the region's media in mid-January after Pinera described "deep differences" with the way democracy is understood and carried out in Venezuela, triggering a stern response from Chavez.

Editor: Su Yu | Source: Xinhua