Paraguay under pressure after Lugo ousted

ASUNCION, June 24: Paraguay’s new president has said he would ask his impeached predecessor to help quell regional tensions after Argentina withdrew its ambassador in protest at what it said was a coup and Brazil recalled its top diplomat for consultations.

South American neighbors and key trading partners are taking Paraguay to task for the unprecedented speed with which the opposition-dominated Congress removed President Fernando Lugo on Friday, saying he had failed to fulfill his duties to maintain social harmony.

A silver-haired leftist and former Roman Catholic bishop, Lugo was a year away from completing his five-year term. He decried the two-day impeachment trial but accepted the decision, stepped down and told supporters yesterday any protests should be peaceful.

Lugo spoke to reporters outside his home on Saturday night, saying he was toppled by a “a congressional coup” and that Paraguay was now facing isolation.

The new president, Federico Franco, said he planned to speak to Lugo to try to help ease tensions with neighboring countries. “I think he is the key to decompressing (the situation).”

Franco had been Lugo’s vice president but they often clashed and Franco’s Liberal Party withdrew its support for Lugo last week, paving the way for the swift impeachment trial.

“I’m going to speak with him myself,” Franco, a 49-year-old doctor, said in an interview with Reuters on Saturday. He was sworn in on Friday shortly after Lugo was ousted.

The impeachment was sparked by clashes that killed 17 police and peasant farmers during a recent land eviction. Critics of the process complained Lugo’s lawyers had only a few hours to defend him in the Senate, which voted 39-4 in favor of his removal.

A landlocked, soy-exporting country of 6 million people, Paraguay has a long history of instability and military rule. (AGENCIES)