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Puerto Rico's new governor sworn in, but Senate approval still needed

Puerto Rico's new governor sworn in, but Senate approval still needed
Pedro Pierluisi holds a news conference after swearing in as Governor of Puerto Rico in San Juan, Puerto Rico August 2, 2019. REUTERS/Gabriella N. Baez -
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SANJUAN (Reuters) – The handpicked successor to disgraced Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló was sworn in on Friday after Rossello stepped down, but lawyer Pedro Pierluisi said his term as governor might be short-lived because the U.S. territory’s Senate still must approve his appointment.

At his first news conference as governor, Pierluisi said Puerto Rico’s Senate would meet on Wednesday to vote on whether to confirm his position as governor.

“If I am not ratified then the second in line, the secretary of justice of Puerto Rico, will take over the governorship,” Pierluisi told reporters.

Rossello finally resigned on Friday following weeks of protests over offensive chat messages and corruption charges against former administration officials.

The U.S. territory’s Senate head blasted the transition process as “unethical and illegal.”

Although Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives earlier on Friday voted to approve Pierluisi as secretary of state, an appointment which would make him next in line as governor, the island’s Senate has yet to vote.

Until an appointment was confirmed by both chambers, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and other senators had said the next in line for governor, under law, was Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez

“He did not respect the wishes of the people. In fact, he mocked them using new accomplices,” Schatz said in a tweet after Rosselló announced that Pierluisi would be sworn in. “The disrespect, the lying the unethical and illegal behavior went viral.”

Jennifer González, the island’s representative in the U.S. Congress, told newspaper El Nuevo Dia that Puerto Rico’s constitution stated that the justice secretary should have been sworn in as governor until Pierluisi was confirmed secretary of state by the legislature.

Protesters and ruling party leaders including Schatz have rejected Pierluisi as the island’s next governor, saying his work as an attorney for the fiscal control board created conflicts of interest.

(Reporting by Luis Valentin Ortiz in San Juan; additional reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago; writing by Andrew Hay; editing by Leslie Adler)

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