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One Woman President Takes Office, While Another Is Elected

I'm Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

This week, the people of Chile elected their first female president -- and Africa's first elected woman president took office.

In Chile, Michelle Bachelet won fifty-three percent of the ballots in a second vote held Sunday. She was the Socialist candidate of the ruling coalition. Opposition candidate Sebastian Pinera, a businessman of great wealth, had forty-six percent.

Michelle Bachelet is fifty-four years old. She is a medical doctor, and a single mother with three children. Her father was an adviser to Socialist president Salvador Allende. General Alberto Bachelet was jailed and tortured after a military overthrow of Allende in nineteen seventy-three. General Bachelet died after six months in prison.

Secret police later put his wife and daughter in torture centers. Once freed, they fled to Australia and then Germany. Michelle Bachelet returned to Chile in nineteen seventy-nine. But the government of Augusto Pinochet refused to let her work as a doctor.

The dictatorship ended in nineteen ninety. In two thousand, President Richard Lagos made Doctor Bachelet health minister. Two years later, she became Chile's first woman defense minister.

Today, she promises to be a president "for all women and all men." She says she will lead a government that will better meet the needs of women and the poor. And she says she will work to continue Chile's economic growth and close ties with the United States. President Bachelet will be sworn in on March eleventh.

In Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was sworn in on Monday. She is sixty-seven years old. Over the years she has served in the government and the opposition. She served as finance minister. But she also spent time in prison and exile for her political activism.

Miz Johnson-Sirleaf defeated a former soccer star for president in November. Now she has the job to begin rebuilding a nation torn by civil war. Charles Taylor started a rebellion in nineteen eighty-nine. He later became president. Conflict continued until he resigned in two thousand three.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf promises a break with the past. She says many years of problems have hurt progress and national unity, and kept old disagreements alive. She says her goal is to improve the lives of the people of Liberia.

Miz Johnson-Sirleaf studied economics at Harvard University in the United States. American first lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice both attended the historic swearing-in.

Liberians call their new president the "Iron Lady" and "Ma Ellen." Miz Johnson-Sirleaf explained both names to a reporter from the New York Times.

The Iron Lady, she says, "comes from the toughness of many years of being a professional in a male-dominated world." She says Ma Ellen has to do with the suffering she has seen in Liberia, and how it "brought out the motherliness" in her.

IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Nancy Steinbach. I'm Steve Ember.