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Chilean miners invited to play soccer at presidential palace

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera poses with the 33 rescued miners inside the Copiapo Hospital where they are undergoing full medical exams, in Copiapo October 14, 2010.

HO/Jose Manuel de la Maza/Reuters

Chilean president Sebastian Pinera has an invitation for the 33 rescued men who were rescued from the mine they were trapped in for more than two months.

Speaking to the miners in person Thursday morning, Mr. Pinera suggested Franklin Lobos, a retired soccer player, form a team with the men to play a match at the presidential palace, La Moneda, later this month.

"We'll make a team in La Moneda, and we'll have a game," Mr. Pinera said. "He who wins stays in La Moneda. And the other team returns to the mine. Do you accept the challenge?"

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The miners, laughing, responded with an exuberant, "Yay!"

The president invited them to the palace Oct. 25, "because everyone wants to receive you in the house of all Chileans."

In a brief visit filled with smiles, the miners - who were clad in bathrobes and still wearing dark sunglasses to shield their eyes - each embraced the president, laughing and joking on the day after they came to the surface. The gripping rescue proceeded without any obvious flaw, and took fewer than 24 hours, half the time officials had warned it could take.

Mr. Pinera thanked several nations by name -- Canada, the U.S. and Australia -- for being "extremely helpful" in the rescue, which was completed late Wednesday night, amid a celebration that saw bells ring and horns sound into the early morning hours across the country.

"We are very grateful," he said.

Three of the rescued miners have been medically discharged from the hospital, and are expected to leave to their families later Thursday evening.

Most of the remaining miners are expected to be released by Sunday, medical authorities said Thursday evening.

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"They have evolved in a very favourable manner," said Jorge Montes, medical vice-director of the Copiapo hospital, where the 33 men remain after a tense rescue from the mine they had been locked inside for more than two months.

Mr. Montes declined to name which men will be released, nor their time of release.

The miners have emerged in remarkably good health; even the one man who suffered from pneumonia has responded well to treatment, he said.

The mental state of the men remains a concern, however.

"Their psychological state is difficult to foresee," Mr. Montes said. "They were stressed very profoundly during two months. So the lesions of that you can't see in the short term. They could all, in theory, present post-traumatic stress disorder."

On Thursday, Mr. Pinera told the miners that their rescue had re-defined what it means to do something the "Chilean way," a phrase that has typically suggested a mediocre effort in this country.

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"Today it has a different meaning. and today to do it the Chilean way has new meaning. It means to do it well," he said.

The president has attempted to use the disaster as an attempt to unify the country -- or, perhaps, to distract from the very real problems that remain. Chile is, for example, still struggling to recover from a major earthquake that struck earlier this year. It also faces an ongoing battle with the Mapuche people, the country's indigenous population. Several dozen Mapuche had begun a hunger strike to protest government discrimination in the days before the mine collapsed. Their plight has been largely forgotten in the drama at the mine.

The Chilean president pledged to use that drama to effect change. He promised to triple the budget for mining inspections, and outlined efforts to re-draw the country's approach to safety.

"Never again in this country are we going to permit someone to work in such insecure conditions and such sub-human conditions," he said. "During the next few days we're going to propose a new agreement with the workers, we're going to review procedures, regulations, standards and inspections."

Those changes would affect not only miners, but also those working in agriculture, fishing, trucking and construction, Mr. Pinera said.

The changes could, however, prove difficult to enact, since many Chilean businesses struggle under razor-thin profit margins, and even workers in unsafe situations have in the past lobbied to prevent greater safety standards in hopes of maintaining employment. The families of the trapped miners also say the problems in that mine were related not to this country's safety rules, but rather to its lack of proper enforcement.

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About the Author
Asia Bureau Chief

Nathan VanderKlippe is the Asia correspondent for The Globe and Mail. He was previously a print and television correspondent in Western Canada based in Calgary, Vancouver and Yellowknife, where he covered the energy industry, aboriginal issues and Canada’s north.He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award and a Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. More

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