'I have decided to separate my wife (Susana Higuchi) from her functions as first lady,' Mr Fujimori said in a late-night televised address to the nation on Tuesday. 'From now on, Mrs Higuchi can carry out her political activities in open opposition to the government when and where she pleases, like any citizen, but not as first lady,' he added.
Mr Fujimori has been annoyed by public statements by his wife, from whom he has been living apart since her public protest this month over an electoral law that bans her from seeking office or criticising his rule.
Mrs Higuchi retaliated yesterday with a news conference held outside the presidential palace. She told reporters that she had 'no plans' to leave the palace, and passed out a statement in which she called her husband's speech 'totally false'. Mrs Higuchi later said that if her husband wanted to separate or seek a divorce he should do so formally and not announce it on the television. The presidential couple has reportedly been having marital problems for some time.
The first lady, a 44-year-old construction engineer who uses her maiden name, had made 'generalised and vague accusations' of corruption, fuelling uncertainty and damaging the country's image abroad, the President said.
Mr Fujimori has been sleeping in Peru's army headquarters, known as the 'Little Pentagon', with three of their four children, for the past two weeks. In recent interviews, Mrs Higuchi has said she might consider running for president in order to challenge the constitutionality of the law banning her from seeking office.
Mr Fujimori, who, like his wife, was born to Japanese immigrants, called his wife's attitude incomprehensible. He said: 'Susana Higuchi de Fujimori has been used by people surrounding her who, pretending to be advisers, have skilfully fostered in her a political ambition which until recently was unknown to me or other Peruvian citizens: to be president of the republic.'