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Chile ex-president launches election campaign

Michelle Bachelet, who left office four years ago with soaring popularity ratings, promises tax and education reforms.

Last Modified: 14 Apr 2013 11:55
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Bachelet conceded many issues were left unsolved during her presidency, key among them education [EPA]

Chile's former president has launched her campaign for November's presidential election.

Michelle Bachelet kicked off the campaign on Saturday, saying she will use a second term to reform taxes and education and to fight Chile's huge income inequality.

"We must guarantee everyone a public education system that integrates them at all levels, ends profit and advances toward universal gratuity," she said.

"It's the desire of most Chileans."

Bachelet, 62, begins her campaign for the November 17 election as the front-runner.

The daughter of a general tortured to death for opposing General Augusto Pinochet's 1973 military coup, Bachelet herself was arrested along with her mother in 1975 and went into exile to Australia and the former East Germany.

She left office four years ago with soaring popularity ratings and was was unable to seek immediate re-election as  Chile's constitution bans consecutive terms.

But she conceded many issues were left unsolved during her presidency, key among them education reform and the sharp income inequality that has marred the country's economic growth.

"Combatting inequality is what gives us a purpose to be here," Bachelet said.

"It's the fine print that affects millions of consumers who are in debt. It's the salary gap between men and women and the inability of workers to negotiate collectively," the moderate Socialist Party member told a cheering crowd of about 5,000 people at the Caupolican theatre in downtown Santiago, the capital.

'Universal gratuity'

Bachelet, who has spent the last two years heading the UN agency for women, promised to push for tax reform so that "those who earn more, contribute more" to fund deep changes to Chile's troubled education system.

"We must guarantee everyone a public education system that integrates them at all levels, ends profit and advances toward universal gratuity," she said.

"It's the desire of most Chileans."

Student protests demanding free education marked the final years of her term and worsed during the administration of her conservative successor, Sebastian Pinera.

Pinera's popularity has plunged to the lowest level of any Chilean leader since the end of Pinochet's dictatorship in 1990.

Tens of thousands of students flooded the streets of Chile on Thursday to demand free education, showing the continuing strength of the student movement in an election year.

Bachelet's opponent from the conservative governing coalition is likely to be either Andres Allamand, former defence minister, or Laurence Golborne, the former public works minister who led the 2010 rescue of 33 miners trapped deep underground in the Atacama desert.

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