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Paraguay’s President Resigns

March 29, 1999

ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) _ Paraguayan President Raul Cubas has resigned and plans to turn over power to the leader of the Senate, a ruling party lawmaker said today.

It was not immediately clear when Luis Gonzalez Macchi would take power, but a special session of Congress was called for Sunday evening, said Martin Chiole of the ruling Colorado party.

Swarms of people filled the streets of the capital after local media reported Cubas’ resignation. They lit fireworks and honked horns in celebration.

The reports capped two weeks of deepening political crisis that included the assassination Vice President Luis Maria Argana and stepped up efforts to impeach Cubas.

Four people were killed and dozens were wounded in clashes two days ago, as TV images showed suspected snipers crouching on rooftops and one man repeatedly firing a pistol.

Cubas’ resignation and the installation of Maachi brought relief and an apparent resolution of the crisis.

``This is as great victory for democracy,″ said another senator, Armando Espinola. ``The blood of our youth has not been spilled in vain.″

Cubas was impeached by Paraguay’s lower house last Wednesday, accused of abuse of power for freeing a general in prison for an attempted coup. If convicted by at least two-thirds of the 45-member Senate, Cubas would be stripped of power and replaced by the Senate president.

The crisis followed last week’s ambush slaying of Argana and plunged the country into political turmoil that is testing its 10-year-old embrace of democracy.

There were no suspects in the slaying, which prompted allegations of intrigue across Paraguay’s political spectrum.

The assassination accelerated efforts to strip power from Cubas, with lawmakers blaming the president for allowing the country fall into disarray.

On Sunday, hundreds of troops with rifles withdrew from outside parliament, leaving uniformed police in their place to guard the broad plaza, the focal point of violent clashes.

``Cubas resign!″ people shouted from the steps of the downtown cathedral where a round-the-clock vigil was being held. Hundreds of people joined demonstrators for a Palm Sunday Mass in memory of the four men killed.

As the names of the victims were read during the service, people applauded and a priest declared, ``The blood spilled here cries out for justice!″

Many said they were angry.

``We are indignant. This president is shameful!″ said Francisco Schmeda, cloaked in the red, white and blue Paraguayan flag as he joined the throng at the peaceful rally.

Cubas won one of Paraguay’s cleaner elections with more than 50 percent of the vote last May. Since then, public dissatisfaction over his rule has centered on his inability to fulfill promises to end endemic corruption, ease unemployment and solve the country’s economic problems.

He is accused of illegally freeing Gen. Lino Oviedo, a controversial military leader seen by many as the strongman behind Cubas’ rule. Days after his inauguration in August, Cubas freed Oviedo, who was serving a 10-year sentence for attempting to oust then-President Juan Carlos Wasmosy in 1996.

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