Peruvian first lady says she is prisoner in president's palace

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LIMA - Peru's deposed First Lady, Susana Higuchi is locked - literally - in a marital and political dispute with her husband, President Alberto Fujimori. Ms Higuchi, stripped of her duties as First Lady on Tuesday, said in a radio interview that she was now a prisoner at Government Palace.

'Unfortunately, they've welded the doors shut on us,' she said in a telephone interview with Radioprogramas del Peru. 'They won't let me go out. They've welded shut the door on the Pescaderia Street side.'

Speaking by mobile phone, she said she has been prevented from seeing or talking to her children. She claimed that she was virtually isolated in the palace and could receive guests only with great difficulty. Reporters have been prevented from getting near the high, glass-and-metal palace door used by Ms Higuchi and her staff. Three trucks parked in front of the door prevented a clear view and military police with water cannon patrolled the street outside.

Ms Higuchi and President Fujimori, both children of Japanese immigrants, have been reported to be having marital difficulties for some time but Ms Higuchi has said that her split with her husband was over 'a difference of ideas'. She first incurred Mr Fujimori's wrath when she protested the constitutionality of an election law that bars relatives of officials from running for high office in next April's election. She has said she might consider running for president in order to challenge the constitutionality of the law.

A few days later, she abandoned the official residence and stayed with a friend for a week before returning to the palace. But by then Mr Fujimori had moved with three of their four children to army headquarters known as the 'Little Pentagon', where they have been staying for two weeks. In a series of media interviews, Ms Higuchi criticised Mr Fujimori's rule, praised his likely electoral opponent and accused members of his government of corruption.

President Fujimori, in a televised address to the nation on Tuesday, called her 'disloyal', saying she acted more like an opposition politician than a spouse and that he was stripping her of the First Lady title.

On Wednesday, she held out an olive branch by leaving open the possibility of reconciliation, but the apparent response was the welder's torch. Asked what she planned to do, Ms Higuchi said she would 'continue fighting for my principles and my convictions like any other Peruvian citizen'. Asked where she would go if she were forced to move out permanently, she said: 'I'd go to some mountain, possibly to a shantytown.' Still, she said, she remains hopeful for reconciliation.

'I am disposed,' Ms Higuchi said. 'It only depends on my husband.'