OAS Presses Peru's Fujimori for Democratic Reforms

Reuters -- 28 June 2000

by Alistair Scrutton

LIMA (Reuters) - A top-level mission from the Organization of American States (OAS) met President Alberto Fujimori on Wednesday to press Peru for democratic reforms after fraud allegations marred his reelection last month and created a political crisis.

Riot police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of anti-Fujimori protesters outside the presidential palace where Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy and OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria held talks with the president.

After three hours of what the government said were ``cordial and constructive'' discussions, the delegates left in a motorcade guarded by hundreds of police lined up shoulder-to-shoulder along the palace access road.

The mission was due to meet later on Wednesday with opposition leader Alejandro Toledo, who boycotted the May 28 run-off, saying the vote was fraudulent. He refuses to recognize the results.

Fujimori's election to a third term was overshadowed by the withdrawal of international monitors, who said the vote was undemocratic. Toledo said the results were rigged and called for new elections in this nation of 25 million people.

The OAS mission, in Lima for three days, is not questioning the legitimacy of the vote. Instead, it wants the government to agree on a timetable for new reforms, such as the appointment of independent judges.

The trip is highly unusual for the OAS, worried that Peru has been a democratic laggard in Latin America where other nations have made strides over the last decade toward more stable civilian rule.

The delegation faces a polarized nation. Polls show Peru is split between voters who see Fujimori as an illegitimate dictator, and those who consider him a no-nonsense, iron-fisted leader who has led the country into the 21st century.

Hundreds of riot police, armed with batons, shields and machine guns, guard the mission's Lima hotel and fired tear gas at 200 anti-Fujimori protesters there Tuesday night.

Wary of more demonstrations, police have set up scores of road blocks around the OAS mission hotel, snarling traffic in the heart of Lima's business district.

Axworthy Says Media, Court Reforms On Agenda

Peru's government said it welcomed proposals from the OAS mission. The delegates said they wanted a timetable of reforms along with participation from the opposition, according to a statement from Government Palace. Axworthy has said institutional changes rather than new elections are on the agenda. The 34-member body has rejected U.S. calls to question Fujimori's legitimacy, voting instead to send the mission to resolve Peru's political impasse.

``(There are) problems with an electoral commission that doesn't work, a judiciary that isn't independent, strong interference with the media and the role of the secret service in terms of manipulating things,'' Axworthy told Reuters before leaving for Peru. ``Until you've tackled some of those problems any election would be somewhat dubious.''

Toledo, a free marketeer with left-leaning rhetoric, has called for a demonstration in Lima on Wednesday night, part of preparations for a massive march in the capital on July 28 to try to stop Fujimori's swearing-in. Fujimori, popular since his first election in 1990 for defeating leftist rebels and reviving a moribund economy, has said he will pass some democratic reforms, such as appointing independent judges. But he has flatly refused to hold new elections.

The United States said it will wait to see if Peru passes reforms before deciding whether to take unilateral action, such as economic sanctions. Fujimori has said the May vote was fair and transparent. He captured 51.2 percent against 17.6 percent for Toledo. Tainted ballots accounted for 29.9 percent of the vote, apparently reflecting Toledo's call for his supporters to void their ballots.