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Defying Vatican, Peru’s President Presses Drive For Family Planning

September 13, 1995

BEIJING (AP) _ Saying the women of his country deserve a chance to escape poverty, Peru’s President Alberto Fujimori vowed today to continue a family-planning crusade that has provoked bitter opposition from the Roman Catholic Church.

``I will keep doing this. I am so stubborn!″ he said in an interview with The Associated Press at the U.N. women’s conference, where he is to deliver a high-profile closing speech on Friday.

Fujimori unleashed a firestorm of criticism in his predominantly Catholic country when he signed a law allowing vasectomies and tubal ligations. He has pledged to make family planning available to rich and poor alike.

He said he was driven by the suffering and deaths of women who have illegal abortions, or are condemned to a life of hardship because they have too many children.

``Why be poor and suffer in this life to enter into heaven?″ he said. ``It’s not what God wants, for people to be poor, suffering, hungry.″

Asked whether his next goal will be the legalization of abortion, he replied: ``Not for a while. We have enough confrontation.″

``I don’t know how it will evolve,″ he added.

Compared with some of the freedoms being advocated at the Beijing conference, Peru’s population policies are far from radical. But Fujimori said they had to be seen in context.

``For us, it is a new and groundbreaking step. It’s very hard,″ he said.

No other South American government has similar policies, but Fujimori predicted Peru’s stance would be a catalyst in the region.

``I think this debate will extend to other South American countries,″ he said.

Fujimori said he believed the church would someday ease its strict stance against artificial contraception in response to the need for population control to alleviate poverty in the developing world.

``They will evolve. They will change,″ he said. ``Meanwhile, we cannot wait. We must proceed.″

Fujimori said he had no meetings planned in Beijing with the Vatican delegation, which has been lobbying against provisions that it says would weaken motherhood and the family.

The Peruvian leader, elected to a second five-year term in April by a solid majority, will be the only male head of state to address the world’s biggest women’s gathering.

``It’s not an exclusive meeting for women,″ he said, adding he wanted to express solidarity and support for the women’s movement.

On his much-publicized split with wife, Susana Higuchi, he observed dryly that she may be able to get a divorce more quickly, thanks to laws approved during his administration.

Fujimori, 57, said he did not think their acrimonious battles would cool his welcome at the conference.

``Problems within the family have the understanding of women,″ he said.

Asked about Peruvian press reports he is looking for a new wife, he laughed uproariously.

``Oh yes _ why not?″ he said. ``I will have the right.″

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