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Film-star lifestyle awaits Chile's hero miners

Three Chilean miners left hospital today and got a taste of their new lives outside the doors - a swarm of reporters, publicity agents, TV producers and even football teams desperate for a piece of their story.

A day after their epic rescue from the San Jose mine, still wearing the oddly fashionable sunglasses that protected them from the bright light when they were hoisted from 2,000 feet underground, the men posed in hospital dressing gowns for a group photo with President Sebastian Pinera.

Three were discharged from the hospital early today and others were expected to follow.

Chilean state television showed the men leaving Copiapo's regional hospital by a side exit and getting into a white van.

Unity helped the men, known as "los 33", survive for 69 days underground, including more than two weeks when no-one knew whether they were alive.

But the moment they walk out of the hospital doors, they go beyond the reach of a government operation that has cared for, fed and protected them in a carefully co-ordinated campaign to ensure each of them would leave in top condition.

"Now they're going to have to find their equilibrium and take care of themselves," hospital chaplain the Rev Luis Lopez said.

Yesterday, on their first full day of fresh air, the miners were probably the 33 most in-demand people on the planet.

A Greek mining company wants to bring them to the sunny Aegean islands, competing with rainy Chiloe in the country's southern archipelago, whose tourism bureau wants them to stay for a week.

Hearing that miner Edison Pena jogged regularly in the tunnels below the collapsed rock, the New York City marathon invited him to participate in next month's race.

And television writer-producer and Oscar nominee Lionel Chetwynd said he expected projects were being pitched around Hollywood within hours of the rescue.

State TV showed Mr Pena being enthusiastically greeted by applauding neighbours as he arrived at his house. He described his raucous greeting as "very beautiful".

"I thought I would never return," he said.

The miners families and friends were organising welcome-home dinners, street celebrations and even weddings. Lilianett Ramirez, whose husband Mario Gomez promised her a church wedding in the "Dear Lila" letter Mr Pinera read on TV when the men were found alive, said they have now set a date.

"If God and the Virgin desire it, we'll get married on November 7, his birthday," she said, beaming as she left the hospital.

The government promised six months of psychological treatment, made sure each has a bank account only he can operate, and coached them on dealing with rude questions.

The rescue team even asked Guinness World Records to honour all 33 with the record for longest time trapped underground, rather than the last miner out, Luis Urzua. Guinness spokeswoman Jamie Panas said the organisation was studying the question.

The men certainly have an extraordinary story to tell. No-one before them had been trapped so long and survived.

Mr Pinera also was defining face of the rescue, embracing Luis Urzua when he climbed out of the pod to become the 33rd miner out, then leading a joyous crowd in the national anthem.

"They have experienced a new life, a rebirth," he said, and so has Chile. "We aren't the same that we were before the collapse on August 5. Today Chile is a country much more unified, stronger and much more respected and loved in the entire world."

The billionaire businessman-turned-politician also promised "radical" changes and tougher safety laws to improve how businesses treated their workers.

"Never again in our country will we permit people to work in conditions so unsafe and inhuman as they worked in the San Jose mine, and in many other places in our country," said Mr Pinera, who took office in March as Chile's first elected right-wing president in 50 years.

Among the most compelling stories from the ordeal will be Mr Urzua's. He was the shift foreman when 700,000 tons of rock sealed them in. It was his strict rationing of the 48-hour food supply that helped them stay alive until help came.

But based on new details the miners shared later with their families, the rationing appears to have been even more extreme than previously thought.

"He told me they only had 10 cans of tuna to share, and water, but it isn't true the thing about milk, because it was bad, out of date," Alberto Sepulveda said after visiting his brother Dario.

Other family members were told the tuna amounted to about half a capful from the top of a soft drink bottle - and that the only water they could drink tasted of oil.

"I think he was a fundamental pillar that enabled them to keep discipline," said Manuel Gonzalez, the first rescuer down and the last to leave.

The cause of the collapse at the mine awaits a formal investigation, but the miners' families said they knew it was overexploited and increasingly dangerous, but went in anyway for the slightly higher wages, about £1,000 a month.

Descending for four miles below the Atacama desert, the mine has been giving up copper and gold since 1885, leaving it honeycombed and unstable.

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