PARAMARIBO, Suriname (AP) _ The acting army chief of Suriname said Thursday the armed forces had acted legally in ousting the elected president and pledged that legislators will elect a new chief executive this week.
Cmdr. Ivan Graanoogst said the military’s overthrow of President Ramsewak Shankar was constitutional because the National Assembly had been left in power. He denied the takeover was a military coup.
The assembly convened Thursday morning for the first time since Shankar was overthrown. The constitution requires it to elect a new president and vice president when their posts are vacant.
Graanoogst said Shankar and Vice President Henck Arron would present their resignations to the assembly.
It will elect new chief executives to be installed Saturday, and they will set the date for elections to be held within 100 days, Graanoogst said. The assembly will also pick a new Cabinet, he said.
″There is no coup at all,″ Graanoogst said on television. ″The United States, the Netherlands, France and others who have protested are premature.″
Surinamese returned to work after the traditional two-day Christmas holiday. There was no unusual military presence in the streets of the capital of Paramaribo or any sign of protest.
However, the U.S. State Department advised Americans not to travel to Suriname and for those living there to remain indoors.
Suriname, a former Dutch colony, is an ethnically diverse country of 400,000 people on South America’s northeastern coast.
The Organization of American States summoned member states to a special meeting Friday to discuss a Venezuelan request for prompt action to restore the constitutional government in Suriname.
Venezuela announced a day earlier it would not recognize the new government and demanded a ″firm response″ to the bloodless ouster.
However, neighboring Brazil, a major power in South America, said through its embassy in Venezuela that it was opposes intervention.
In defense of the military action, Graanoogst referred to two articles in the constitution that give the armed forces authority to ensure ″a peaceful transition to a democratic and socially just society.″
Graanoogst is No. 2 in the five-member Military Authority headed by Cmdr. Desi Bouterse, who is believed to be a key power behind the scenes.
Bouterse ruled as dictator from 1982-87 and resigned as military chief just before the takeover. Graanoogst, head of the military police, stepped in as acting military head.
A journalist who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals said Shankar and Arron were resigning ″at gunpoint.″
Shankar was quoted by the newspaper De Ware Tijd as saying he is allowed to move freely but is staying home ″to prevent any escalations.″
Shankar was elected by the assembly in 1988 after his three-party coalition, the Front for Democracy and Development, won parliamentary elections a year earlier by a landslide. Shankar’s ouster coincided with growing popular discontent over Suriname’s deepening economic crisis.
High inflation and unemployment have made it difficult for most Surinamese to pay for their basic needs. The government has a monthly trade deficit of $10 million.
The downward spiral began during Bouterse’s rule. Major factors were the military’s inexperience in managing the economy; a drop in the world price of bauxite, the country’s major export; and guerrilla warfare that disrupted production.