Uruguay's new center-right president sworn in

Montevideo (AFP) –


Center-right leader Luis Lacalle Pou was sworn in as president of Uruguay on Sunday, marking a new era for the South American country after 15 years of left-wing rule that brought in social reforms but left a stagnated economy.

The 46-year-old head of the Partido Nacional was elected in November after winning a run-off against the incumbent Broad Front's candidate Daniel Martinez by just 37,000 votes in the country of 3.4 million people.

To secure victory, Lacalle Pou relied on a coalition of five political parties from the center to the far right.

The former lawyer marked his inauguration with a speech vowing to revive the economy, tackle worsening crime and strengthen the Mercosur regional trade bloc.

"This government is committed to handling itself in an austere way -- we will take care with every burden on the taxpayer," Lacalle Pou said, pledging to promote "true fiscal rule."

He described the nation's crime problems as "an emergency" and said that he would immediately gather police chiefs to issue new orders to reassure "the vast majority of Uruguayans who feel unprotected."

The Partido Nacional has not been in power since the new president's father, Luis Alberto Lacalle governed (1990-1995).

Under the Broad Front, salaries and pensions rose, access to health care broadened, poverty fell and there were periods of record growth.

But over the last five years, the economy stagnated, the fiscal deficit rose to its highest rate in 30 years and unemployment crept up, along with the soaring crime rate.

Outgoing president Tabare Vazquez presented the presidential sash to Lacalle Pou at a ceremony in Montevideo attended by Brazil's right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro and Spain's King Felipe VI.

The left-wing leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela -- whose President Nicolas Maduro was branded a "dictator" by Lacalle Pou -- were not invited.