Peru's President Fujimori abandons power

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The Independent US

Peru's autocratic President, Alberto Fujimori, his grip on power compromised by a corruption scandal, stunned his country at the weekend by announcing new elections and his withdrawal from politics.

Peru's autocratic President, Alberto Fujimori, his grip on power compromised by a corruption scandal, stunned his country at the weekend by announcing new elections and his withdrawal from politics.

Mr Fujimori went on national television on Saturday night to make the announcement, which was apparently prompted by the release last week of a videotape in which his security chief was seen buying the support of a recalcitrant opposition politician with a thick wad of cash.

Having fiercely resisted international criticism of last May's presidential election, the President offered a near-complete capitulation, including a promise to disband the national security agency that has increasingly acted as his own political enforcement service.

"After profound reflection, and an objective evaluation of the circumstances, I have made the decision to deactivate the system of national intelligence and, in second place, to call general elections as quickly as possible," Mr Fujimori said. "In these general elections," he said, pausing for breath, "I will not be participating."

Immediately after the address, hundreds of people gathered outside the presidential palace in Lima, chanting anti-Fujimori slogans and demanding the President's immediate departure from office. Around the country, caravans of drivers waved Peruvian flags and honked their horns late into the night. "Finally, I feel God is Peruvian," was the reaction of Fernando Olivera, an opposition leader who made the videotape public on Thursday.

The sight of Vladimiro Montesinos, the head of the National Intelligence Service (whose Spanish acronym is SIN) handing over more than $10,000 in cash to the opposition deputy Luis Alberto Kouri, appears to have been the tipping point in the long campaign to unseat Mr Fujimori.

Opposition politicians said it may have persuaded the armed forces, which had been taking orders from Mr Montesinos, that they could no longer tolerate the President. "If Fujimori had continued to have the support of the armed forces, he never would have said what he said tonight," Carlos Ferrero, an opposition deputy, said after Saturday's announcement.

Mr Montesinos was part of a web of power around Mr Fujimori, which also included the US intelligence services and the Drug Enforcement Administration, agencies engaged in a costly "war on drugs" in several Latin American countries, which has received increasing criticism for its ineffectiveness and its dangerous empowerment of the military and anti-democratic power structures.

The United States has been torn about its erstwhile ally since the May elections, criticising him for compromising democracy on the one hand but stopping short of going for his ouster on the other. During the election campaign, Mr Fujimori was accused of manipulating the country's highest court to allow him to run for an unconstitutional third term, orchestrating a fraudulent signature campaign to get back on the ballot, and running a smear campaign against the opposition which eventually pulled out of the race in protest.

Mr Fujimori has found himself isolated, particularly after his inauguration in July, which was marked by riots, arson and at least six deaths. The Organisation of American States repeatedly urged him to fire Mr Montesinos, and earlier on Saturday said he that should take "quick and severe" action to restore faith in the security services.

Yesterday, the Clinton administration expressed its relief and called for a rapid restoration of full democracy. Peruvian opposition figures were wary, however, of what the next few weeks would bring. Alejandro Toledo, the presidential candidate who withdrew at the last moment in May, said he would run again. But he added: "I doubt Fujimori will keep his word."

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