Paraguay’s Lugo ousted by Senate
Ex-president’s trial lasted five hours
ASUNCION, Paraguay – Paraguay’s Senate removed President Fernando Lugo from office in a rapid impeachment trial on Friday, and the leftist former priest said he was stepping aside even though he considered his ouster a blow to democracy.
Vice President Federico Franco was promptly sworn in as president after tense hours during which Lugo’s supporters massed in the streets, facing off with riot police. The outgoing president, who was elected on pledges of helping the poor, averted the potential for a bigger conflict by appearing on television and saying he would comply with the Senate’s vote.
“I say goodbye as president,” a smiling and gracious Lugo said shortly after the Senate vote. He said, however, that Paraguay’s democracy “has been deeply wounded.”
Franco, who had split ways with Lugo in recent years, triumphantly donned the presidential sash and declared: “At this time, God and destiny wanted me to assume the presidency.”
The Senate tried Lugo on five charges of malfeasance in office, including an alleged role in a deadly confrontation between police and landless farmers that left 17 dead.
After the five-hour trial, 39 senators dismissed Lugo, while four senators voted against and two were absent.
It was a dramatic demise for the once-popular leader who stepped down as a popular Roman Catholic “bishop of the poor” to run for the presidency amid a leftward swing in South America.
Lugo’s removal after nearly four years in office highlighted his inability to find a balance with one-time allies who increasingly disapproved of his leftist policies and strident, uncompromising style. The trial came a day after Paraguay’s lower house of Congress voted to impeach Lugo.
Crowds of pro-Lugo protesters took to the streets condemning the impeachment trial and expressing support for the president. Police in anti-riot gear drove them back on horseback and using water cannons.
Some listened to the vote on speakers set up in the street, and booed lawmakers who voted for Lugo’s dismissal. When the vote was over, some chanted “Lugo president!” Others wept. After Franco’s swearing in, the crowd of protesters waned.
Franco, of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party, is now to serve out the rest of Lugo’s term, which ends in August 2013. The 49-year-old Franco has political experience as a former state governor and at first had been part of a political alliance that supported Lugo.
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