Fernando Lugo, who was ousted as president of Paraguay on Friday, has condemned his removal from office as a “parliamentary coup” and pledged to stand with those calling for a “peaceful strike.”
Lugo was impeached by 39 votes to 4 in the Senate after 17 police officers and landless farmers were killed during a violent land eviction in the east of the country earlier this month.
In an unexpected appearance on an early morning program broadcast Sunday by a state-funded TV station, Lugo said the parliament’s actions represented a “coup against the citizenry and democracy,” the BBC reported. A crowd of about 200 gathered outside the station’s headquarters in the capital, Asuncion, chanting “we will not recognize any other president” and calling for protests and strikes, which Lugo said he would join “as a Paraguayan citizen.”
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According to the Agence France Presse, clashes broke out ten days ago when 300 police officers arrived at a private forest reserve owned by wealthy businessman and Lugo opponent Blas Riquelme in Curuguaty, 250 kilometers northeast of the capital Asuncion, to remove around 150 peasants squatting on the land.
At least 17 people died, and Lugo was forced to accept the resignations of his interior minister and his chief of police over the incident, according to the Associated Press, and came under intense political pressure. On Thursday, the lower house of congress, which is dominated by Paraguay’s opposition Liberal Party, supported a motion to begin impeachment proceedings against the president by 73 votes to one, while the Senate backed the move the following day.
According to The Guardian, Lugo’s impeachment may have wider implications for Paraguay’s relations with its South American neighbors. Argentina immediately withdrew its ambassador and warned that the Mercosur trading bloc could sanction Paraguay, while Brazil – Paraguay’s biggest trading partner – recalled its ambassador for consultations and condemned Lugo’s impeachment.
Federico Franco, who was sworn in as president immediately after Lugo’s ousting, denied accusations of a coup Saturday, telling foreign journalists: “The country is calm. I was elected [as vice president] in 2008 by popular vote. Activist is normal and there is no protest,” according to the Associated Press.
Franco has dispatched his newly-appointed foreign minister, Jose Felix Fernandez, to try and calm Paraguay’s fellow Mercosur members.
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