Woman claims to be Peron's long-lost love child

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Martha Holgado says even strangers comment that her facial features are strikingly similar to those of the former president Juan Peron. But it has taken until now for the 72-year-old to test her claim that she is the illegitimate child of Argentina's strongman.

Forensic experts extracted DNA samples on Friday from Peron's formaldehyde-cured body for a paternity test. It is just the latest indignity to be endured by the former leader and his adored wife Evita in their exceedingly strange afterlife.

Removing 12 locks and the heavy bulletproof plate that guard his coffin, investigators took bone samples under the watchful eye of a judge handling the paternity claims of Mrs Holgado, who went public long ago saying she was the product of a brief affair between Peron and her mother.

After being thwarted for decades by Argentina's military leaders and then by Peron's family, Mrs Holgado finally got her chance to obtain the DNA now that Peron's body is being moved to a $1.1m (£590,000) mausoleum outside Buenos Aires to honour his legacy.

"This for me is the end of a long lapse of time that was real agony, just agony," she said on Friday. Her lawyer Santos Cifuentes and medical adviser Dr Gustavo Penacino watched workers remove small bone fragments from Mr Peron's leg and other parts of his body - enough material for thorough DNA tests by laboratories in Argentina and abroad that should be complete in six weeks.

Peron, who was elected president three times before dying in office in 1974, radically reshaped economic and political life by founding Argentina's still-dominant Peronist party 61 years ago. An authoritarian leader, still widely admired by many and reviled by others, he and his glamourous wife Evita directed their nation's wealth to grateful legions of poor, urban workers.

Some 25 federal police officers ringed the tomb in the Buenos Aires cemetery of Chacarita as medical experts got their first detailed look at the body since 1987, when tomb raiders hacked off the general's hands and stole them along with a sabre, cap and other items.

President Peron's body is to travel in procession on Tuesday to a mausoleum some 40 miles south-west of Buenos Aires. His body is likely to be accompanied by thousands of Peronist faithful. The move means Mr Peron's remains are being disturbed for the third time since his death, offending some who think he should be left in peace.

The new mausoleum also has room for Evita, who died in 1952 aged 33 and whose body now rests in her family's crypt in the opulent Recoleta cemetery. Peron's family hopes to reunite the bodies, a possibility Evita's family has steadfastly rejected.

Many Peron followers scoff Mrs Holgado's paternity claim, noting that none of Mr Peron's three marriages produced children. "The people are my only descendants," Peron famously said. It is a phrase that is even etched on his new mausoleum.

Some Buenos Aires lawmakers last week pressed for investigators to find Mr Peron's missing hands and the culprits.