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Chile’s Pinera heads to Europe

Chile's President Sebastian Pinera (R) holds a news conference after meeting with the 33 rescued miners, outside Copiapo hospital October 14, 2010. Chile's 33 newly rescued miners recovered from their ordeal on Thursday while also pondering the celebrity status they have gained following a more than two-month entrapment deep under a remote desert. Pinera is flanked by Atacama Region Superintendent Ximena Matas and Chile's Health Minister Jaime Manalich (L). (GETTY IMAGES / REUTERS/Carlos Vera )

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October 16, 2010 (KATAKAMI / SMH.COM.AU/ AFP) — Chilean President Sebastian Pinera begins a trip on Friday to Britain, France and Germany, as he basks in the glory of the spectacular rescue of 33 miners trapped for more than two months.

Pinera travels first to London, where he will meet British Prime Minister David Cameron and stay until Tuesday, an official with the presidency told AFP.

He then goes to Paris, where he will stay until Thursday and meet President Nicolas Sarkozy. After that he heads to Berlin, where he will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The trip wraps up on Saturday.

No further details of the trip have been released – neither the foreign ministry nor the president’s office have handed out an official travel agenda.

Officials however said that any agenda will likely have last-minute changes because Pinera has received so many requests for interviews from foreign media to talk about the miners.

“Undoubtedly,” Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno said, the rescue of theminers “will be a much discussed topic”.

As gifts, Pinera will be taking bags containing rocks from inside the mine along with copies of the initial hand-written message from the miners telling rescuers that they had survived the accident and were fine, according to the local magazine Que Pasa.

A sentence printed on each bag will read: “In your hands are rocks from the depths of the earth and the spirit of 33 Chilean miners,” the magazine said.

Pinera linked himself closely to the rescue early in the operation. He travelled to the San Jose mine in far northern Chile, where the men were trapped, six times to oversee operations.

He then stayed at the site for 22 hours as the miners were rescued one by one, and hugged the miners as they left their rescue capsule. Later he visited the rescued miners in the hospital.

Meanwhile, 31 of the 33 miners were back home on Friday after doctors gave them the all clear to pick up their lives again.

Regional health director Paola Neumann said the two remaining miners, who were not named, had been transferred to clinics for more treatment, one for dental surgery, the other suffering from spells of dizziness.

The 28 miners were driven discreetly from the hospital in the northern mining town of Copiapo without stopping to speak to a horde of journalists camped outside hoping for interviews.

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