Chile presidential candidates square off in debate



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SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) - Michelle Bachelet defended promises of deep social changes while her conservative rival Evelyn Matthei said reducing poverty and crime are more important than Bachelet's call for free education during a debate ahead of the presidential elections.

Center-left Bachelet, who became Chile's first women president from 2006-2010, is now widely expected to retake the presidency in a Dec. 15 vote. During the radio debate, she backed her plan to raise corporate taxes to finance an education overhaul, change the dictatorship-era constitution and legalize same-sex marriage and abortion in some cases.

"We're not choosing between two women. We're choosing between two projects for the country where we want to live," Bachelet said.

Matthei, a fiery former labor minister, had a difficult moment in the debate when she said her campaign plans looks like Angela Merkel's Germany while Bachelet's follows the model of the former East Germany.

"In Merkel's Germany what is rewarded is the effort," she said. But a journalist reminded her that her program has very little, if any resemblance to it, because today's Germany provides free education and charges high taxes. She's against both.

Matthei criticized Bachelet's plans saying priorities such as tending to Chile's poorest, improving pensions and reducing rising crime should come before giving everyone free education. She also dismissed criticism for recently saying she will not do anything that "is not indicated in the Bible," and explained that she meant to say she's against gay marriage and abortion.

Bachelet and Matthei were childhood friends, but found themselves on opposite sides of the deep political divide after Chile's bloody 1973 military coup.

Matthei's father ran the military school where Gen. Alberto Bachelet was tortured to death for remaining loyal to ousted President Salvador Allende.

Both families have said Gen. Matthei had no direct involvement in Bachelet's father's death and the two women have remained cordial over the years while rising through the political ranks on the right and left.

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Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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