Former Chilean President says she's going back to Chile

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who became head of the UN agency promoting women's equality in July 2010, said Friday night that she is giving up the post and returning home, an announcement that comes amid widespread speculation she plans to run for president again this year.

Bachelet, who was Chile's first woman president, ended a speech at the closing session of a two-week meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women on a personal note. However, she did not mention Chile's presidential race or give any specifics on when she was leaving or what her future plans are.

"This will be my last CSW," she said. "I'm going back to my country."

Bachelet is widely expected by Chileans to be a candidate in the Nov 17 presidential election, though she did not address the political angle. Recent polls have said that 54 per cent of voters support her, and the centre-left opposition views her as its best chance to defeat conservative President Sebastian Pinera and regain power.

"I'm happy for the country," Osvaldo Andrade, leader of the Socialist party told CNN Chile. "There must be a nervous breakdown in downtown Santiago. It's an unequivocal sign."

Carlos Larrain, head of the conservative National Renewal party, said a Bachelet candidacy "will be healthy for the system" by giving voters a choice between the social welfare policies of her previous term and those of Pinera's right-of-center government.

Chile is respected for its fast-growing economy and transparent institutions, but it also has the worst inequality rate among the 34 countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and widespread protests of inequalities have harried the administrations of both Bachelet and her successor, Pinera.

Millions of Chileans have staged widespread and frequent protests demanding a wider distribution of Chile's copper riches, free education and the return of ancestral lands to Mapuche Indians in a southern region where members of Chile's largest indigenous group often clash with timber companies and landowners.