- The Washington Times - Monday, November 20, 2000

LIMA, Peru President Alberto Fujimori, whose 10-year authoritarian rule has crumbled in recent months amid corruption scandals, said in Tokyo early today that he would resign within 48 hours.

Mr. Fujimori issued a brief written statement confirming announcements made hours earlier in Peru by his prime minister and his second vice president.

Second Vice President Ricardo Marquez said Mr. Fujimori, who has been in his ancestral homeland, Japan, since Friday, had asked him to step in as president until special elections are held in April and a new leader takes office in July.

The statement issued by Mr. Fujimori said he made the decision taking into account that opposition lawmakers had won control of Congress last week. He did not elaborate, but a motion was before Congress to declare Mr. Fujimori's presidency vacant on constitutional grounds of "moral incapacity."

"What I know is that he does not want to be an obstacle to the process of democratization so that the next elections can be elections absolutely transparent for the Peruvian people," Prime Minister Federico Salas told radio station Radioprogramas.

Mr. Fujimori refused to meet with a crowd of reporters who had gathered at his Tokyo hotel. A Peruvian Embassy official, who refused to give his name, handed out a brief statement in Spanish confirming that the president would resign.

"President Alberto Fujimori confirmed … that he is resigning as president," the statement said. "In the course of 48 hours, he is going to formalize the decision with the newly elected president of the Congress."

Mr. Marquez said last night that the Government Palace told him that Mr. Fujimori planned to send his resignation by e-mail today.

"We are all indignant with this attitude of the president. I urge him to return to the country. He has a moral obligation to the nation and must assume it," Mr. Marquez said at a news conference earlier yesterday.

Mr. Fujimori's ministers said they had decided to resign, but would continue on until it was clear who was taking over the government. In a written statement, the ministers expressed their "indignation" that Mr. Fujimori's announcement was "made outside the country in the context of a grave crisis and uncertainty about his return."

Peru's military high command said in a statement that it would respect any changes in the government now that Mr. Fujimori has resigned, as long as those changes respected the constitution.

In Washington, White House spokeswoman Mary Ellen Countryman said the United States would work with the Organization of American States to ensure a smooth transition.

"What's important for Peru is that the transition to the April 8 elections proceeds smoothly and peacefully. And we will continue to work with the OAS on that process."

Mr. Fujimori's announcement came amid a growing corruption scandal around the president's fugitive ex-intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos. The scandal forced the 62-year-old Mr. Fujimori to announce in September that he would step down in July after new elections ending a decade of iron-fisted rule during which he defeated leftist insurgencies and halted the economic chaos of the 1980s.

Normally under the constitution, First Vice President Francisco Tudela would assume the presidency. But Mr. Tudela presented his resignation hours after Mr. Montesinos returned to Peru on Oct. 23 after a failed asylum bid in Panama. Mr. Tudela complained that Mr. Fujimori was not in control of Mr. Montesinos and his allies.

Mr. Marquez, the second vice president, had said that he, too, would resign if Congress which last week came under opposition control for the first time since 1992 took measures to remove Mr. Fujimori. But he said yesterday that Mr. Fujimori asked him not to quit.

"I've just spoken with him and he has said he would like me to assume the position, and I told the president that … I am going to take the post," Mr. Marquez told radio station CPN.

But there were signs that a power struggle may develop.

Former presidential candidate Alejandro Toledo who boycotted a May runoff against Mr. Fujimori, alleging fraud said in a radio interview from France that Mr. Marquez's association with Mr. Fujimori's "illegitimate" government should rule him out as a transition leader.

Peru's human rights ombudsman, Jorge Santistevan, said Mr. Tudela, the first vice president, had the right to the post because Congress had not yet accepted his resignation.

"I am sure Tudela is up to the circumstances of administering the executive branch until the end and guaranteeing that Paniagua plays the role that corresponds to his democratic credentials in Congress," Mr. Santistevan said.

Next in line for succession after the second vice president is the Congress president, Valentin Paniagua, a political moderate who was installed last week by opposition legislators.

Mr. Fujimori's trip abroad prompted a wave of rumors that he would step down and seek asylum. He was criticized for leaving Peru to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Brunei on Wednesday and Thursday.

On Friday, he made an unannounced detour to Japan, canceling a planned trip to Panama this weekend, where Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking leaders held an Ibero-American summit.

At first, Japanese officials had said he was in the country only for a layover to change planes, then Japan's Foreign Ministry said Mr. Fujimori would stay longer than planned because he had a cold.

But later Saturday, the Peruvian government announced that Mr. Fujimori planned to remain in Tokyo until Wednesday to negotiate loans to ease Peru's financial problems.

Mr. Fujimori, who first came to power in 1990, was born to Japanese immigrant parents who picked cotton in Peru until they opened a tailor's shop in downtown Lima.

The president has maintained strong ties to Japan. His son, Hiro, lives there, as do his sister and brother-in-law, Victor Aritomi, Peru's ambassador to the country.

Mr. Fujimori's grip on power began to fall apart after Mr. Montesinos, his longtime top aide was seen apparently bribing an opposition lawmaker to support the government. A videotape of the meeting between Mr. Montesinos and the lawmaker was leaked to the media. Mr. Montesinos fled to Panama but was denied asylum and returned to Peru.

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