Peru's army backs defiant Fujimori

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The Independent US

The threat of a military coup in Peru receded yesterday when the armed forces publicly backed President Alberto Fujimori after his shock announcement of early elections.

The threat of a military coup in Peru receded yesterday when the armed forces publicly backed President Alberto Fujimori after his shock announcement of early elections.

The armed forces' communiqué called for calm and supported the President's decision to dismiss his intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, who was implicated in a bribery scandal last week. The communiqué broke four days of ominous silence from the military, and Mr Fujimori now appears to be in control.

South America's longest ruling leader announced that, in spite of demands from the opposition that he step down immediately, he would not countenance a transition government and would keep his grip on power until 28 July, when the first new leader in a decade will be inaugurated.

Furthermore, he hinted that he was considering a fresh bid for the presidency in 2006. There has been no timetable set for the new elections, nor is there any public sign of when his disgraced National Intelligence Service (SIN) will be disbanded.

Mr Montesinos, a former army captain who was discharged years ago for selling state secrets, has installed supporters in strategic positions throughout the armed services and the legal system. His brother-in-law commands the Lima army garrison, which would have led any armed intervention in the Peruvian capital. Analysts speculate that Mr Montesinos has so much incriminating evidence about his colleagues that he has cut a deal with the government and will not face punishment.

Frequently described as an Andean Rasputin who uses hi-tech methods of extortion, he is reportedly under guard at Las Palmas base on the outskirts of Lima, although officials deny that he has been arrested.

The opposition, led by the populist Alejandro Toledo, insists that the spymaster and security chief be tried for bribery and human rights abuses before the government can be viewed as legitimate. Earlier this week, hundreds of protesters burnt an effigy of President Fujimori'.

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