December 10, 1999
Promising austerity, new Argentine president takes office

                  December 10, 1999
                  Web posted at: 8:24 AM EST (1324 GMT)

                  BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Fernando De la Rua assumed
                  Argentina's highest office today, promising a new era of political
                  austerity after the glamorous presidency of Carlos Menem, one of
                  Latin America's most colorful leaders.

                  Embarking on a four-year term, De la Rua was sworn in today as Argentina's
                  47th president. Wearing a dark suit, he took up the blue-and-white sash of office
                  during a midmorning ceremony at the congressional palace.

                  The former mayor of Buenos Aires took over from Menem, whose two
                  consecutive terms over ten years -- replete with outlandish antics and bold
                  leadership -- are the longest served by any Argentine leader.

                  As the candidate of the center-left opposition Alliance, De la Rua, 62, easily
                  won an Oct. 24 election by casting himself as a sober antidote to the pomp
                  of the Menem years. It was one of the worst defeats for the long-dominant
                  Peronist party.

                  On Thursday, De la Rua officially relinquished his post as mayor of Buenos
                  Aires and the balding, gray-haired lawyer said he was ready to begin
                  working "to provide answers to the needs of all Argentines."

                  De la Rua takes power at a time of acute economic hardship in Argentina.

                  Sparked by the devaluation of Brazil's currency in January, the economy has
                  been slowed by the worst recession since free-market reforms, implemented
                  by Menem in the early 90s, revived the country's floundering economy.

                  The country is approaching fiscal danger with a federal deficit that some say
                  could swell to $11 billion next year if no preventive measures are taken.

                  Following a brief hospital stay for minor lung surgery days after the election,
                  De la Rua has sought to reach agreement with the Peronist dominated
                  Congress on ways to slash spending in next year's budget.

                  De la Rua has also pledged to attack the social costs widely believed here to
                  be the result of Menem's economic program. In casting votes for De la Rua,
                  voters said they felt he would better deter rising unemployment, a growing
                  crime problem and a widening gap between the rich and poor.

                  "Our priority will be to create jobs," De la Rua has said in reference to an
                  unemployment rate bobbing at 14 percent.

                  Menem bade farewell to Argentines in an open letter published Thursday in
                  Argentine newspapers. He wrote that his government leaves a country far
                  better off than the one he inherited -- well poised for the 21st century.

                  "We leave a solid country, with institutional and economic stability, peace
                  and owners of a new international prestige," he wrote. "All of which will
                  allow de la Rua to successfully take the initial steps in the third millennium."

                  Menem now becomes the country's leading opposition figure. As leader of
                  Argentina's Peronist party, he is in position from which he could immediately
                  launch a bid for the presidency in 2003.

                    Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.