Fujimori says he rebuffed plan to burn Congress and block his inauguration

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The Independent US

In a blistering attack, a visibly angry President Alberto Fujimori accused his opponents of plotting to set fire to Peru's Congress building and compared them to terrorists after violent clashes marred his inauguration.

In a blistering attack, a visibly angry President Alberto Fujimori accused his opponents of plotting to set fire to Peru's Congress building and compared them to terrorists after violent clashes marred his inauguration.

Rioting on Friday left six people dead and several downtown buildings in flames during demonstrations by tens of thousands of Peruvians against Fujimori as he started a third five-year term in office.

Addressing the military high command, the president said Saturday that demonstrators had conceived a "totally delirious plan to burn the Congress building so that the president-elect could not be sworn in."

"What infamy if they had burned Congress!" Fujimori declared, praising security forces for cracking down on demonstrators. "Not having achieved their objective," he said, "they burned several buildings."

A state bank and the offices of the national election board, which oversaw Fujimori's tainted May 28 re-election, were among the buildings burned Friday.

Fujimori's harsh rhetoric reflected how polarized the country has become over the start of an unprecedented third term and what critics call an increasingly authoritarian rule.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa, an opposition protest spokesman, called Fujimori's criticism a campaign to discredit peaceful civic resistance, and predicted it could be a prelude to arrests meant to throw opponents into disarray.

"They are pointedly destroying the capacity of the opposition to moblize people," said Vargas Llosa, a writer and son of Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa.

He said Fujimori's claim of a plot to burn Congress was outlandish, noting that the president hadn't identified those behind it or given any evidence for his claims.

"Why would he make such a wild accusation without pointing the blame at anyone in particular?" Vargas Llosa said in an interview, reiterating opposition claims that government infiltrators inspired the violence.

New Prime Minister Federico Salas blamed the march organizers for the violence.

"The matter is in the prosecutor's hands, and of course the families of the victims have every right to begin those legal actions they consider appropriate," Salas said.

Noting media reports Saturday that said a prosecutor was going to begin a formal investigation, Vargas Llosa said: "That means of course they will have the power to arrest us," he said. "This is exactly the kind of government we are combating."

Tear gas and smoke darkened the skies over the capital, Lima, on Friday when protesters battled police in the streets. At least 80 people were injured in clashes.

On Saturday, the last two victims were removed in black body bags from the state bank as streetsweepers cleaned up glass and graffiti reading "Down with the Dictatorship!" Tensions had lifted and security was noticeably scaled back from the 40,000 police out on the streets Friday.

Fujimori told the high command that the supposed plot was comparable to another foiled in 1995 by leftist Tupac Amaru rebels to seize Congress and take hostages. A crackdown on that movement followed, with numerous arrests.

"For 10 years, Peru endured the scourge of extremist violence," he said, adding the country will not be forced to return to "times of savagery that cast many Peruvian homes into mourning and destroyed public and private property."

He did not give details of the alleged plot. But without naming anyone, he laid blame squarely on organizers who brought tens of thousands of demonstrators to Lima. That march had Fujimori's opposition challenger as its figurehead: Alejandro Toledo, the 54-year-old economist who had called for a large, nonviolent march.

Toledo blamed the unrest on what he said were dozens of pro-Fujimori infiltrators sent to discredit the protesters. He said late Friday that Fujimori was "inaugurated behind the tanks and rifles because he does not have the support of the people."

He vowed his peaceful movement would continue.

Political analyst Santiago Pedraglio said Peru's long-splintered opposition movement showed a newfound ability to mobilize tens of thousands of people.

"Despite the lamentable violence and the terrible deaths yesterday, it is undeniable that the opposition now appears to be more solid and more unified," he said. "Many of those who mobilized don't identify themselves with any political party. There is a very large sector of citizenry that no longer wants Fujimori."