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Ex-student leader Chile’s new president

Left-leaning former student leader Gabriel Boric has been sworn in as Chile’s new president, vowing to oversee a political and economic revival of a nation shaken by massive protests over inequality in recent years.

At 36, Boric is the youngest president in the history of the South American nation — one who was only 4 years old when democracy returned following a 17-year military dictatorship that both bloodied and set the groundwork for modern Chile.

Boric has vowed that his young, inclusive government will attack nagging poverty and inequality that he said are the unacceptable underbelly of a free market model imposed decades ago by General Augusto Pinochet, who ruled from 1973 to 1990.

His four-year term begins at a moment when a constituent assembly is drawing up a new constitution for the country to replace one adopted under Pinochet.

After a ceremony in the port city of Valparaiso, Boric swore in what he called a “feminist” cabinet of 14 women and 10 men.

While his election initially scared investors, causing drops in stock prices and the peso, he has since stressed a pragmatic streak, vowing to maintain fiscal responsibility and naming a respected economist, former Central Bank president Mario Marcel, as finance minister.

His leftist coalition has only 37 of the 155 seats in congress. Even adding other centre-left parties, his allies fall just short of a majority.

Chile has long been seen as one of Latin America’s greatest economic success stories, bolstered in part by its vast mineral industries. But it has been rocked over the past decade by repeated large protest movements — some led by Boric — demanding better education, pensions and health care, as well as a more egalitarian distribution of wealth.

Boric takes office as well at a moment when large-scale immigration from Venezuela and other countries has caused unrest in northern Chile while violent protests by some Indigenous rights activists demanding historic territories have caused clashes in the south.

Boric has called for greater taxes on the wealthy to help finance improved health care, education and a universal pension plan to replace a privately run system that has proven inadequate for many. He’s also pushed for a higher minimum wages and the creation of more jobs for women, in particular.

He also campaigned for greater environmental protections in a country famed for its enormous copper mines.

Any changes may result less from Boric than from the new constitution. The assembly drafting it is due to finish this year, offering it to voters for ratification or rejection.

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