December 17, 2001

Chilean president says no changes

                 SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- President Ricardo Lagos said Monday his
                 government would not alter its plans for constitutional and other reforms
                 despite strong gains by the right-wing opposition in legislative elections the
                 day before.

                 "The government has its agenda and will follow it," the Socialist president said.

                 Lagos rejected the resignations of Cabinet ministers of the centrist Christian
                 Democratic party, the largest partner in his center-left coalition. The ministers
                 submitted their resignations after their party dropped from 38 House seats to 24 in
                 Sunday's elections.

                 The opposition, including supporters of former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet,
                 made substantial gains, but failed to wrest control from the governing coalition,
                 which saw its majority in the lower house narrowed from 20 to 6 seats and lost its
                 one-vote advantage in the Senate.

                 "In Chile, there are now two blocks with similar, solid popular support," said
                 opposition leader Joaquin Lavin.

                 The president declared the election a victory and said he would go ahead with plans
                 for a massive overhaul of the public health system and the passing of a divorce law
                 that is opposed by the right.

                 Also on the government's agenda are plans to rid the constitution -- written by
                 Pinochet's 1973-90 dictatorship -- of clauses considered undemocratic, including
                 one prohibiting the president from firing top military commanders.

                 "I do not see why we can't continue to work in different areas," Lagos said.

                 Lavin said his legislators were prepared to cooperate with the government, but the
                 strengthened opposition force may make it difficult for Lagos to push key
                 legislation through, especially constitutional reforms that require higher quorums
                 than regular bills.

                 Lagos said his immediate concern was to create jobs to curb the national
                 unemployment rate of 9.7 percent, which was widely seen as a contributing factor
                 to the gains by the opposition.

                 The ruling Coalition for Democracy had 47.9 percent support in the elections, a
                 moderate drop from the 50 percent it received in legislative elections four years

                 The right-wing opposition front, the Alliance for Chile, had 44 percent, up from 30
                 percent in 1997. Most of this gain came from the Independent Democratic Union,
                 UDI, a party made up mostly of Pinochet supporters.

                  Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.