Interim president takes power in Venezuela

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The Independent Online
CARACAS - Octavio Lepage, the chairman of the Venezuelan parliament, has taken over as interim president after Carlos Andres Perez's suspension on corruption charges. But the country's leadership crisis appears far from over.

Mr Lepage, 69, interior minister under Mr Perez in the 1970s, was sworn in on Friday night after the Supreme Court ruled that Mr Perez must stand trial on charges of embezzlement and misappropriating millions of dollars of public funds. The interim president was quick to point out, however, that Mr Perez, 70, had not been convicted. He implied that Mr Perez could return to the presidency if his name is cleared before his term ends in February.

Even before the Supreme Court had suspended Mr Perez, controversy had begun over how long Mr Lepage's interim term should be. He said he intended to stay on for at least three months, perhaps followed by a similar term if approved by Congress and if the Perez trial was not then over. Other congressmen, notably the influential Senator and former president, Rafael Caldera, said Mr Lepage had 30 days to call a joint session of Congress that would elect a new interim president.

Mr Perez, president from 1974-79, was re-elected in December 1988 amid hopes that he could bring back the days of the Seventies' oil boom. By February 1989, when hundreds died in riots in Caracas, that was already seen as a forlorn hope. He survived two coup attempts last year.