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High expectations as Costa Rica swears in president

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Costa Rica's new President Luis Guillermo Solis pledged to run his administration as a "glass house" and tackle corruption "eating away" at the country and economy as he was inaugurated Thursday.

The 56-year-old historian took the oath of office at a ceremony in the National Stadium in the capital San Jose attended by dignitaries including presidents from Central and South America 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 gathered in the stadium.

The new president promised dialogue with all sectors of civil society and has vowed wide-reaching political and social reform of a country with severe infrastructure problems, a struggling economy and border tensions with neighboring Nicaragua.

"Corruption is eating away at our democracy and is breaking public finances. The new government will fight it tirelessly," he said.

His first act after being sworn in was to sign an ethical commitment with his cabinet.

He also announced measures to tackle the fiscal deficit of six percent of GDP, which he said was the biggest challenge for his government and a threat to the stability of public finances .

And he pledged to increase investment in public education from 7.2 percent of current GDP to 8.0 percent by the end of his term in 2018.

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.

- Obscure candidate to president -

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 in Costa Rica.

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.

But Solis's opponents claim he has yet to lay out real details of 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 he does not disappoint," said Beatriz Rojas, 29, a business manager, adding: "He seems to know what the country needs."

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