Paraguay president faces ‘political coup’

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June 23, 2012

Supporters of President Fernando Lugo gather outside Parliament, in Plaza de Armas, Asuncion, Paraguay to protest against his impeachment trial.

Paraguay’s Senate was set to decide overnight whether to impeach President Fernando Lugo after a deadly shootout between landless peasants and police highlighted the failure of his land redistribution program.

The opposition-controlled lower house voted 73-1 for impeachment proceedings on Thursday after an attempt on June 15 to evict a group of families from land they had seized led to the death of 17 people, including six police officers. The crisis prompted South American leaders meeting in Rio de Janeiro to send a commission to Paraguay to investigate.

Mr Lugo (right), a former Catholic bishop whose five-year term ends in August 2013, had moved to head off the impeachment by replacing the interior minister and police chief following the confrontation. The Colorado Party, which dominated Paraguayan politics for six decades before Mr Lugo won the 2008 election, led the calls for his removal in a bid to regain power before elections in April, said Eric Stadius, an analyst at the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

”The political process in Paraguay is broken, and this essentially amounts to a political coup that threatens the country’s democratic legitimacy,” Mr Stadius said in an interview. Opposition parties are ”seeking to bypass the elections next April”.

Paraguay’s Congress has broken ”legal procedures” over its attempt to force Mr Lugo from office, Ecuador’s President, Rafael Correa, said. Regional leaders are preparing measures if Lugo is expelled ”illegitimately”, he said.

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