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New Peru President Sworn In

November 22, 2000

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Valentin Paniagua, a political moderate and the head of the opposition-led Congress, was sworn in Wednesday as interim president to replace the deposed autocrat Alberto Fujimori.

Paniagua, 64, will head a caretaker government that will serve until a new president is chosen in elections next year.

Cheering opposition leaders joined in singing the national anthem after he took up the presidential sash in a congressional ceremony that capped two months of political crisis.

Paniagua, who was the consensus candidate to guide Peru’s transition, was elected Congress president six days ago, marking the end of Fujimori’s eight-year domination of the legislature.

Fujimori, whose iron grip on power was broken by a corruption scandal swirling around his fugitive ex-spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, announced his resignation on Monday from Japan, where he says he will remain.

But opposition lawmakers ignored his resignation offer, and instead pushed through a vote late Tuesday to ``vacate″ the presidency on constitutional grounds of ``moral incapacity.″

Though a political humiliation for the once-powerful leader, the move did nothing to alter the course of presidential succession.

Paniagua’s oath-taking followed a legislative session Wednesday in which lawmakers raucously chanted ``the dictatorship has fallen!″ That came after Fujimori’s second vice president, Ricardo Marquez, was maneuvered out of the line of succession when lawmakers voted to accept his resignation.

Peru’s opposition wrested control of Congress away from Fujimori’s allies last week, helping trigger his downfall.

``This is a triumph for Latin American democracy! Peru has put itself in the vanguard in the fight against dictatorships,″ declared opposition Congressman Daniel Estrada.

Paniagua was expected to guide Peru to new elections April 8.

Inaugurated to an unprecedented third term in July after a deeply flawed election, Fujimori found his rule weakened by the corruption scandal that he could not control.

The legislative moves signaled a reawakening of Peruvian democracy after years of Fujimori domination of Congress, the courts and most of Peruvian society.

``I am happy, and many Peruvians must be overjoyed ... knowing that Fujimori’s dictatorship has fallen, fallen under the weight of its own corruption,″ said Congressman Jorge del Castillo of the left-leaning Aprista party.

Fujimori’s supporters in Congress cried foul.

``This is pure vengeance, this act of declaring him morally unfit!″ shouted Congresswoman Carmen Lozada.

Long accustomed to having his edicts rubber-stamped by pliant followers, Fujimori admitted Monday that the new makeup in Congress was a key factor in his decision to resign.

Ten years ago, Fujimori swept into office in a stunning election upset. A son of Japanese immigrants, he won praise after he crippled leftist insurgencies, eliminated 7,000 percent inflation, and struck peace with Ecuador after a decades-old border dispute sparked a 1995 war.

But lingering poverty, weariness with his autocratic ways and his inability to convince Peruvians that he knew nothing about Montesinos’ reputedly vast network of corruption _ including alleged money laundering, narcotics trafficking and arms dealing _ finally brought him down.

The 62-year-old Fujimori, who had declared a war on corruption when he took office in 1990, has denied having bank accounts abroad.

With majority control, an emboldened opposition now has the means to set up committees to investigate accusations of misdeeds _ something it couldn’t do for years.

Congressman Absalon Vazquez, a self-described Fujimori ``foot soldier,″ took a long view on the legislative vote Tuesday and said opposition lawmakers were conveniently overlooking the authoritarian leader’s accomplishments.

Fujimori is widely credited with bringing Peru back from the brink of collapse in the early 1990s, when leftist guerrillas killed peasants and police and terrorized Peruvians with frequent assassinations, car bombings and blackouts of whole cities.

``How can anyone forget the deaths and violence?″ said Vazquez. ``We made great strides pacifying the terrible scourge of terrorism, but politics has many contradictions.″

He concluded: ``The people and history will be the better judge″ of Fujimori.

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