Paraguay's president may be impeachedby senate

Sat, Jun 23, 2012, 01:00

ASUNCION – Paraguay’s senate will decide whether to oust President Fernando Lugo in a lightning-quick impeachment trial yesterday that he says is tantamount to a coup.

Mr Lugo, a silver-haired former Catholic bishop who quit the church to run for the presidency, is accused of mishandling armed clashes over a land eviction in which 17 police and peasant farmers were killed last week.

His rivals, who firmly control both congressional houses, were confident they would get the votes needed to remove the president.

Deputies in the lower house agreed in a sudden, near-unanimous vote on Thursday to start the impeachment.

Mr Lugo has refused to resign, resisting pressure from church leaders to step down to ease mounting tension, and his defence team asked the Supreme Court to intervene on grounds the impeachment violates the constitution.

According to the rules set out by the senate a day earlier, Mr Lugo’s defence team will get two hours to outline their case.

“The president has been given fewer guarantees and fewer rights to defend himself than someone with a traffic fine,” said one of Mr Lugo’s lawyers, Adolfo Ferreiro. “They seem to think anything can be justified in the name of politics.”

Mr Lugo’s rivals said they expected to get the two-thirds support needed to remove him from office and they defended the legality of the process.

“There’s nothing illegal here, there’s no constitutional rupture, no coup,” said centre-right lawmaker Carlos Maria Soler.

In the downtown square facing the Congress building, several thousand people gathered, most of them peasant farmers and leftist activists carrying banners with pro-Lugo slogans and waving the red, white and blue national flag.

“We’re going to defend our president because we’re the ones who chose him,” said Amelino Benitez (18). “We won’t allow them to steal the only power that we have – our vote.”

Extra police were sent into the streets of the capital city Asuncion, where most businesses were shuttered and rush-hour traffic was unusually light.

Mr Lugo (61), a mild-mannered leftist who speaks the Guarani Indian language, vowed to champion the needs of poor Paraguayans when he was elected four years ago, ending six decades of rule by the Colorado party.

His election raised expectations among his supporters that he would tackle rampant corruption and gaping income inequalities in the soy-exporting nation of six million people. – (Reuters)