Aftershocks Shake Chile during Inauguration

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SANTIAGO, Chile - Moments before newly elected President Sebastian Pinera, 60, took the oath of office, dignitaries at the inauguration were shaken by strong aftershocks.

People in the congressional hall glanced anxiously at a huge light fixture that swayed precariously from the aftershocks.

Within an hour after being sworn in, President Pinera told the nation in a televised address that troops and emergency supplies were being dispatched to the quake zone, and he too would be headed there to assess the situation.

"This government will not hesitate one instant nor wait one second to act," Pinera said in apparent reference to the former president, Michelle Bachelet, who was criticized for her response to last month's 8.8-magnitude earthquake.

More than a dozen aftershocks, some registering a hefty 6.9 on the Richter scale, unnerved the 2,000 guests at the inauguration, but Pinera himself appeared calm, smiling and shaking hands with world leaders and dignitaries. Shortly after the 30-minute ceremony, police evacuated the building.

After attending an inaugural lunch, Pinera left by helicopter for stops in Rancagua, the epicenter of last week's massive earthquake, and the coastal town of Constitucion, where 87 people were killed and 43 are still missing.

"We aren't going to just reconstruct what the earthquake and tsunami destroyed," the president told the town's residents. "We are going to rebuild Constitucion into something much better," he said.

"We must be capable of drying our tears," Pinera said, promising that his government would be "close to the people, close to the problems and committed to solutions."


The New York Times and AP contributed to this report.

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