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Costa Rica swears in president amid high expectations


Costa Rica Thursday inaugurated its new president, Luis Guillermo Solis, who faces high expectations from a population weary of the economic problems and corruption scandals under his predecessor.

The 56-year-old historian took the oath of office at a ceremony in the National Stadium attended by dignitaries including presidents from Central and South America, as well as Venezuela's vice president and Prince Felipe of Spain.

Dressed in a dark suit, and accompanied by his partner, six children, and his father, Solis pledged to uphold the constitution and serve his country, prompting loud applause from the thousands of Costa Ricans gathered in the stadium to witness the inauguration.

"This nation has opted for change. It has high hopes and expectations that we must know how to manage," said Congress president Henry Mora, in his inauguration speech.

Solis came out of nowhere in the polls to win the first round of balloting on February 2, staggering the political establishment in the Central American country of five million.

With a record of more than 1.3 million votes, or 78 percent of the ballots cast in the run-off election, he became the first third-party candidate in more than half a century to win the top post.

He has vowed wide-reaching political and social reform as he takes over a country with severe infrastructure problems, debt totaling 60 percent of GDP and border tensions with neighboring Nicaragua.

Proud of their health and education levels, Costa Ricans complain about the rising cost of living, a bankrupted social security system, corruption and the widening gap between rich and poor.

"The people want transparency, new opportunities. Other governments have done nothing and left the 'churuco,'" said housewife Xinia Perez, 52, using a local word for problem.

Outgoing president Laura Chinchilla, of the social democratic National Liberation Party (PLN), was Costa Rica's first female head of state. Her government was shaken by corruption scandals.

Solis has promised "clean" politics using progressive-style policies to generate jobs and implement social programs to reduce poverty.

But Solis' opponents claim he has yet to lay out real details for how he will achieve his ambitious agenda, and that his administration is full of new faces, mainly culled from the academic world, with little political experience.

The new president must also deal with a more fragmented congress than ever, with his party holding just 13 of the 57 seats and the largest block going to the PLN, with 18.

"I hope that does not disappoint," said Beatriz Rojas, 29, a business manager, adding "He seems to know what the country needs."