Latin America & Caribbean

Chile President Sebastian Pinera praises UK friendship

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Media captionChile's president gives David Cameron a piece of rock from the San Jose Mine

The friendship between the UK and Chile is "stronger than ever" following last week's dramatic rescue of 33 Chilean miners, Sebastian Pinera has said.

The Chilean president made the comments following talks with Prime Minister David Cameron in London.

He presented Mr Cameron - and later the Queen - with rocks which the miners brought up with them from the mine.

Earlier he told the BBC that Chile would do "whatever is necessary to have a more secure mining industry".

Mr Pinera, speaking outside 10 Downing Street with Mr Cameron, said the two men had discussed co-operation on education and clean energy strategies as well as the "miracle" at the San Jose mine.

London Pride

He gave Mr Cameron the lumps of rock and a copy of the first message the men, who were trapped for 69 days, had sent to those waiting anxiously above ground.

Mr Cameron gave him bottles of London Pride ale to pass on to each rescued miner and an early edition of Robinson Crusoe. The novel by Daniel Defoe was based on the real story of Scottish castaway Alexander Selkirk who spent four years on a Chilean island.

It was the first time both men had met since taking office.

Mr Pinera, a billionaire businessman turned politician, said: "We discussed many things: how to improve and strengthen our economic relations, how to work together in terms of education, clean energies and many other topics.

"I am sure that the traditional and historic friendship between Great Britain and Chile is now stronger than ever."

He said he had told Mr Cameron the rescue of the men was "a miracle" and the miners' lives had been transformed.

Image caption Sebastian Pinera was accompanied by his wife when he gave the Queen the special piece of rock

He added: "And the Chilean people are not the same. We have learned the lessons that when we work with unity, with faith, with hope, when we really put all our efforts and use the best technology, the best equipment and the best people to undertake huge challenges like this rescue and search effort, we are able to achieve goals."

He said Chile was a "more united" and stronger country and added: "Also, I am sure that Chile now is better known, is more respected, is more valued worldwide."

Mr Pinera, 60, then met the Queen at Buckingham Palace. He and his wife, Cecilia Morel Montes, presented the monarch with the palm-sized stone.

He told her it had been brought up by 40-year-old miner Mario Sepulveda.

The three talked for nearly 40 minutes. As a parting gift, the Queen gave him a framed, signed, picture of herself and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh.

Inner voice

Mr Pinera, who earlier met with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, was due to later speak at the London School of Economics.

Earlier he told the BBC's HARDtalk programme that during the 17 days before the miners were located in the shelter 700m (2,300ft) underground, he had always believed they would be rescued.

"I had a kind of inner voice that told me all the time they are alive," he said.

The men were trapped in the San Jose gold and copper mine by a rock fall on 5 August.

Mr Pinera placed the blame for the accident on the mine's owners, saying they had failed to follow regulations.

But he said the government also "might have been negligent in the sense that it didn't make sure the regulations were being fulfilled".

The San Esteban mining firm - which is close to being declared bankrupt because of the cost of the rescue - has previously denied accusations that it ignored safety guidelines.

Mr Pinera said the government "cannot guarantee that we will not have accidents in the future, but we can guarantee that we will do whatever is necessary to have a more secure mining industry".

He rejected criticisms of his leadership style from some government colleagues, and suggestions that he was unfairly capitalising on the rescue for his own political gain.

He said he had been involved in the operation even before the miners were found alive and that "a real leader has to be hands on, committed, with passion".

On Sunday, Mr Pinera did a spot of sight-seeing and visited tourist attractions including the Cabinet War Rooms, from where Winston Churchill led the UK during World War II.

He also met the manager of Manchester United Football Club, Sir Alex Ferguson.

Sir Alex gave Mr Pinera a signed football shirt and invited all the rescued miners to attend a match at Old Trafford.

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