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General accused of coup plot takes slim lead in ruling party primary

September 8, 1997

ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) _ A former general accused of plotting a 1996 coup was clinging to a slight edge today in the ruling party’s presidential primary, according to exit polls.

Gen. Lino Oviedo had 39 percent of the vote from Sunday’s balloting, according to a poll by private radio station Nanduti. Colorado Party President Luis Maria Argana was a very close second with 36.5 percent.

A poll by Radio Cardinal had the two virtually neck and neck, with Oviedo at 38.7 percent and Argana trailing by just over one percentage point. Both polls put Carlos Facetti _ whose candidacy is supported by President Juan Carlos Wasmosy _ a distant third place.

The official tally, expected Thursday or Friday, will determine the party’s nominee in May presidential elections and possibly Paraguay’s next president because Colorado Party members account for about half the country’s electorate.

Oviedo’s supporters thronged his downtown headquarters and claimed victory. His candidacy garners particularly strong support in Paraguay’s poor interior.

Oviedo, 53, said he would ``await the final results with optimism and patience.″

Wasmosy is barred by law from seeking a second consecutive term.

If Oviedo wins the primary, it would be a major setback for Wasmosy, who claims the former army chief, now retired, was guilty of insurrection after refusing to obey a presidential order to surrender command in 1996.

A tense 27-hour standoff ended when Wasmosy offered Oviedo the post of defense minister on condition he retire from the army. Oviedo accepted, but Wasmosy, under intense public pressure, then withdrew the offer.

Oviedo, who is still under investigation, has repeatedly denied he was plotting a coup, saying he merely was waiting for the complete order for his retirement.

Radio polls said only 50 percent of the 1 million Colorado Party members voted Sunday.

Paraguay has been ruled by generals and dictators for most of the years since it obtained independence from Spain in 1811. In 1993, Wasmosy became the country’s first freely elected president in 50 years.

The vote, also determining candidates for governorships, Congress and the Senate, came as the party mourned the death of 38 people at a campaign rally Thursday.

A freak wind tore down a wall and a makeshift metal stage at a stadium where a senator was giving a speech to flag-waving party members in the town of Ciudad del Este. More than 50 people were injured.

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