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Paraguay Government Under Control

May 20, 2000

ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) _ Soldiers toting automatic weapons took up checkpoints around Paraguay’s capital and passers-by gawked at bullet holes in the colonial-style legislative palace.

The government was back in full control Friday, after mutinous soldiers and police who fired at the legislative building from armored personnel carriers surrendered four hours later.

President Luis Gonzalez Macchi, who took office last March after another political crisis, went on national television to assure citizens that the ``antidemocratic″ forces believed to be loyal to a former coup plotter had been defeated for good.

``Rest easy, countrymen!″ he said. ``Public order has been restored. The destabilizing and antidemocratic forces have been disbanded, the crisis brought under control and the mutineers detained.″

He said his government’s response would be to accelerate economic and social reforms sought by many in this landlocked South American nation struggling with high unemployment and discontent.

The Paraguayan Congress overwhelmingly endorsed a state of siege declared by the president. The measure allows police expanded powers to ensure domestic security.

Late Friday, authorities said that at least 35 congressmen, civilians and others had been detained, suspected of joining a plot.

One of those suspects, Benjamin Maciel of the ruling Colorado Party, professed his innocence. ``I am clean. I didn’t do anything.″

In Washington, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher harshly condemned the aborted coup. He congratulated the Paraguayan soldiers who ``recognized and acted on their responsibility to defend democracy and constitutional order.″

Interior Minister Walter Bower said the rebellious soldiers were sympathetic to former army Gen. Lino Cesar Oviedo, a fugitive wanted in last year’s assassination of Vice President Luis Argana _ a killing that brought Gonzalez Macchi to power. Oviedo was also suspected in a brief mutiny in 1996.

On Friday, the permanent council of the Organization of American States ``vehemently condemned″ the coup attempt and expressed full support for the Gonzalez Macchi’s government.

Paraguay’s still wobbly democracy emerged from the defeat of the 35-year Stroessner dictatorship in 1989, but has been buffeted by one political crisis after another in the intervening decade. The latest upheaval was in March 1999, when Raul Cubas was ousted as president and replaced by Gonzalez Macchi.

Many Paraguayans expressed skepticism that this was the end to instability.

``We are all worried. This may be over for now, but anything can still happen in Paraguay,″ said Mario Isa, 20, who watched as a truckload of soldiers in camouflage fatigues took posts on the second-story balcony of the legislative palace.

Two schoolgirls giggled as they passed the soldiers. But others said they were anxious. ``The truth is, I was scared,″ said Valeria Schussmuller, 21, who followed TV reports much of the night. ``Here we are in 2000 and this is something out of the 1800s.″

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