Peru Set to Name New President After Fujimori Fired

Reuters -- 22 November 2000

by Jude Webber

LIMA - Peru's Congress was set to name a moderate opposition leader as interim president on Wednesday after it declared Alberto Fujimori ``morally unfit'' to be president and removed him from office in disgrace after allegations of corruption.

The head of Congress, Valentin Paniagua, a 64-year-old moderate constitutional lawyer seen as having broad appeal, was expected to be anointed president to lead Peru into elections four years early on April 8.

The vote to reject Fujimori's resignation -- sent from Tokyo where the former strongman was apparently sheltering from the political storm -- was the first time in Peru's history a president had been declared morally unfit for office.

It was a shameful exit for a man who rose from obscurity to serve a decade as president, priding himself on trouncing leftist rebels, licking hyperinflation and securing peace with neighbor Ecuador.

The vote, which capped more than 10 hours of heated debate and climaxed with the walkout of 29 Fujimori loyalists, sparked cheers, claps and chants in the chamber. A red and white Peruvian flag fluttered from the public gallery.

``This is not a day of vengeance, it is a day of justice,'' said legislator Anel Townsend, a Fujimori foe.

Fujimori, 62, who incensed Cabinet ministers and the opposition by resigning while in Japan as a corruption scandal mounted, emerged from four days of seclusion in a Tokyo hotel to apologize to his supporters, but said he planned to stay in Japan for now.

Unwanted, ``unfit'' -- in the end, Fujimori's swift fall from power was as dramatic as his rise to the presidency in 1990.

The Andean nation he took over was an international financial pariah, its people plagued by power cuts, food shortages and car bombs planted by Shining Path guerrillas.

He turned the economy around and secured an iron grip on power -- but not without controversy, especially when he closed Congress, sent tanks into the streets and temporarily awarded himself near dictatorial powers in a 1992 ``self-coup.''

Critics say Fujimori and his ex-spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, progressively dismantled the independence of the courts, the military and the media, and gave Peru one of Latin America's worst human rights records.

The whereabouts of Montesinos, who sparked Fujimori's fall from grace with a bribery scandal, remains a mystery.


It has been an extraordinary week for Paniagua. Elected leader of Congress last Friday, breaking Fujimori's eight-year stranglehold on the legislature, his elevation to the presidency was seen as a foregone conclusion.

``Tomorrow, the formality of accepting the irrevocable resignation of the second vice president, Ricardo Marquez, will be completed and after that formality, the succession of the presidency corresponds to the president of Congress,'' Paniagua told reporters after the session.

Congress earlier accepted the resignation of First Vice President Francisco Tudela. Marquez resigned on Monday.

Tuesday's marathon session was a prologue to what few political analysts expect to be a smooth transition.

Paniagua, who has been in politics for 37 years and has twice been a Cabinet minister, will have the task of completing the reforms of tainted institutions and holding together the economy.

The winner of April's election will take office next July 28 for a five-year term. The opposition has said Fujimori cheated it of victory in a rigged vote earlier this year.

Fujimori Has Japanese Nationality

In Tokyo, a leather-jacketed Fujimori, looking strained but at times flashing his old smile, emerged from his heavily guarded hotel room to offer his first apology and tell reporters he had ''no schedule'' for his stay.

Japanese officials said Fujimori holds a one-year Japanese visa that expires on May 3, 2001. But government sources said that did not necessarily mean he would not be able to stay beyond that date. He has Japanese nationality since he is listed on his family's ancestral register in southwestern Japan.

``I feel sorry because of the confusion, uncertainty and even indignation caused to the Peruvian population and mainly to my followers,'' Fujimori told reporters in English.

``But I have some reasons that I cannot explain right now.''

He said he had nothing to do with $58 million in suspected laundered cash in bank accounts linked to Montesinos. Judicial sources say he could be investigated in widening probes.