January 14, 2011 / 10:48 PM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 1-Chile's Pinera reshuffles cabinet, keeps Larrain

* Changes come amid decline in government popularity

* Larrain stays on as finance minister

* Golborne adds energy to existing mining portfolio (Adds government comment, details)

SANTIAGO, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Chilean President Sebastian Pinera shook up his cabinet on Friday, reassigning four portfolios after a slide in his approval rating but keeping respected Finance Minister Felipe Larrain in his post.

The changes in the defense, energy, transportation and labor positions came a day after Jaime Ravinet resigned as defense minister, the first member of the cabinet to leave since conservative billionaire Pinera took power last year.

The reshuffle also comes amid protests over fuel price hikes in southern Chile.

Mining Minister Laurence Golborne is also taking on the energy portfolio, Senator Andres Allamand is the new defense minister and Senator Evelyn Matthei is the new labor minister, government spokeswoman Ena Von Baer told reporters.

They will be sworn in on Sunday. The next transportation minister has yet to be chosen, Von Baer said.

Pinera’s approval rating fell to 47 percent in December, down from a high of 63 percent in October as a boost from the stunning rescue of 33 trapped miners wore off. [ID:nN02202440]

Ravinet resigned as defense minister on Thursday after he became embroiled in controversy for saying Chile’s armed forces could be reluctant to help in future catastrophes like last year’s earthquake if forced to reveal details of military purchases.

Ravinet was referring to requests by a transparency commission that he explain the cost of a military bridge purchased after February’s earthquake and ensuing tsunamis that ravaged towns and killed more than 500 people. (Reporting by Bianca Frigiani, Antonio de la Jara, Moises Avila and Fabian Cambero; Writing by Simon Gardner; Editing by John O’Callaghan)

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