Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pro-business president takes office in Panama

PANAMA CITY (AP) — Businessman Ricardo Martinelli was sworn in as Panama's new president on Wednesday, promising to start the biggest job-creation push ever in the country.

Martinelli said he wants to make the nation of 3.3 million inhabitants the best place to do business in Latin America.

"The people have given us a clear mandate to bring change to the government, from top to bottom, and that is what we will do," Martinelli said at the ceremony attended by various foreign leaders, including Honduras' ousted president, Manuel Zelaya.

Martinelli, 57, a conservative supermarket magnate, also expressed a desire to become "an active partner" with Colombia and Mexico in the fight against drug trafficking during his five-year term.

One of the new government's proposals is a billion-dollar plan to build a train system for the capital's metropolitan area.

Martinelli's predecessor, Martin Torrijos, launched a $5.25 billion project to increase the Panama Canal's capacity and allow it to accommodate larger ships.

The canal is Panama's economic motor and Martinelli supported its expansion, but the world's economic woes have generated uncertainty over the project, which is receiving $2.3 billion in international financing.

And the country's real-estate boom, another driving force of the economy, has also been affected by the international financial crisis and economic downturn.

Martinelli acknowledged "our administration will not have the resources the previous administration had."

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