SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean President Michelle Bachelet's approval rating hit a two-year high of 51.1 percent in December on support for her government's handling of the economy amid the global crisis, a poll showed Tuesday.

Bachelet and her government were battered in polls last year amid complaints of mismanagement of government funds, anger at high inflation, sometimes violent student protests and a botched revamp of the capital Santiago's transit system.

The poll comes as her ruling center-left coalition, the Concertacion, faces one of its toughest election years since taking power 18 years ago after Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship ended.

Polls widely tip center-right opposition billionaire Sebastian Pinera to win a presidential election scheduled for December. Bachelet cannot run again.

Private pollster Adimark Gfk said it was the first time Bachelet's approval rating exceeded 50 percent since December 2006, and reflects an improvement of nearly 5 percentage points from its prior poll in November.

"The improvement over the prior month is significant and is related to the increase in approval of her (Bachelet's) handling of the economy by 7 percentage points," Adimark Gfk said.

"The handling of the crisis seems to be have turned into a big success for President Bachelet's government. The economy is now the second-best evaluated area of the government after international relations."

It said 1,023 individuals were interviewed by phone for the poll, and that the survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Bachelet's government has announced a series of measures in recent months to counter the effects of the international financial crisis and global economic slowdown, the latest a $4 billion stimulus package announced on Monday evening.

Approval ratings for the government have also risen to 41.3 percent from 34.5 percent in November, trailing the ratings of the president, the poll showed.

(Reporting by Monica Vargas, writing by Lisa Yulkowski)

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