Paraguay ousts Lugo after brief trial

OAS to send delegation to Asunción as landlocked nation finds itself ostracized

Paraguayan police stand near graffiti accusing Franco of staging a coup.
Paraguayan police stand near graffiti accusing Franco of staging a coup.JORGE SÁENZ (AP)

Fernando Lugo, who was impeached as Paraguay's president after a trial lasting just three hours in Congress, told his supporters Tuesday that he was forming a parallel government but acknowledged that there was little hope he would return to power.

"But anything can happen in politics," Lugo said.

Thousands of Paraguayans have held daily public demonstrations demanding that Lugo, a former Catholic bishop who was suddenly impeached on Friday, return to power. Lugo, who four years ago wrested control from the oligarchic Colorado Party, said he will travel the length and breadth of Paraguay to explain what exactly occurred in the lead-up to his ouster.

Lugo, an independent who was backed by a leftist coalition, was impeached on charges that he had acted improperly by sending police squads on June 15 to evict about 100 "landless" farmers who had invaded a private farm in Canindeyu department. The operation took a fatal turn when the farmers revolted, killing 11 policemen. Six of the protestors also died in the fighting.

Paraguayan lawmakers moved quickly to install Federico Franco, who had served as vice president, to take over. But Lugo's supporters accuse Franco and his backers of staging a coup.

The new government is also facing growing isolation as many Latin American nations, including Venezuela, Ecuador and Cuba, immediately recalled their ambassadors from Asunción, saying they will not recognize the Franco administration. Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez has threatened to cut oil supplies and called for the Mercosur regional economic bloc to suspend Paraguay's membership.

García-Margallo recalled Spain's ambassador for consultations

On Wednesday, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo recalled Spain's ambassador for consultations.

In Washington, after a four- hour meeting, the Organization of American States (OAS) decided to send a fact-finding mission to find out why Lugo was replaced in only a matter of hours.

"I consider it my duty to gather all the background so that this [OAS] Permanent Council can take its decisions, and I also consider it my duty to hear the point of view of Paraguay and of other countries," secretary general José Manuel Insulza said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Franco swore in the last members of his new Cabinet on Tuesday. "There was no break with democracy here," he said. "The transition of power through a political trial is established in the national constitution." Franco will serve out the rest of Lugo's term, which ends in August 2013.

But the resistance to his government may cause further social unrest in a landlocked country where about 20 percent of the 6.5 million inhabitants live below the poverty line. The protests began just hours after Lugo was impeached when the new government authorities went to Paraguay's public television station and cut the signal and electricity. After station workers were able to get the signal back on the air, about 5,000 people turned up to support Lugo.

Since then, farm and other rural organizations and student associations have been holding daily protests in Asunción.

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