- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 22, 2000

LIMA, Peru Outraged lawmakers dismissed President Alberto Fujimori in a raucous session of Congress late last night, refusing to accept his resignation and declaring him morally unfit for office.

Though a political humiliation for the once-powerful leader, the move did nothing to alter the course of presidential succession with Congress President Valentin Paniagua, a political centrist with opposition backing, still expected to replace Mr. Fujimori.

Mr. Paniagua's appointment was expected to ease the political turmoil set off by a corruption scandal.

After more than 12 hours of debate, lawmakers voted 62-9, with 9 abstentions to oust Mr. Fujimori on grounds of "moral incapacity" as permitted by Peru's constitution.

The result in the 120-seat Congress exceeded the simple majority of lawmakers present and capped an emotional debate in which Fujimori loyalists walked out en masse moments before the vote began.

Falling into disgrace since his flight last week for Japan, Mr. Fujimori said in Tokyo that he planned to stay in his ancestral homeland "for a long time."

Mr. Fujimori submitted his resignation in a letter sent Monday from Japan.

"The president acknowledges in his letter that he committed errors, but he is not a criminal," shouted Congressman Manuel Vara Ochoa, a Fujimori loyalist. "The president … tirelessly traveled to the most far-flung communities of the country, and those communities we should acknowledge continue to love the president."

Most of the lawmakers attacked Mr. Fujimori for his conduct. Congress did not contemplate impeachment, a more complex and time-consuming process. But Peru's constitution allowed lawmakers to dismiss the president for "moral incapacity.

Mr. Fujimori, known as "The Emperor" for his bulldozer style of government, has even lost the support of some members of his own congressional coalition over his decision to leave the country.

"The country has to say 'enough.' We have to say, here there is clearly moral incapacity and lies," said opposition Congressman Henry Pease. "We have struggled against Fujimori for 10 years. We know his successes, but I have to declare as morally unfit someone who lies to the country, who doesn't dare show his face."

Opposition lawmakers gained control of Peru's legislature last week for the first time in eight years when Mr. Paniagua was successfully voted Congress president.

Mr. Paniagua, 64, was virtually guaranteed to succeed Mr. Fujimori because both of Peru's vice presidents had offered their resignations. Under the constitution, the head of Congress is third in line to succeed a president.

Mr. Fujimori apologized for the "confusion" he caused by his resignation but had little to say about why he decided to step down.

"I want to go back [to Peru] someday, but I don't know when," he told reporters at the Tokyo hotel where he has been holed up. He insisted his decision to stay in Japan had "nothing to do with the scandal" that led to the collapse of his rule.

The 62-year-old Mr. Fujimori, who had declared a war on corruption when he took office in 1990, also denied having bank accounts abroad. He apparently was referring to suspicions he was connected to the millions of dollars his former spymaster, Vladimiro Montesinos, is suspected of acquiring through money laundering and other illicit activities.

Mr. Fujimori swept into office 10 years ago in a stunning election upset. A son of Japanese immigrants, he brought a can-do philosophy to the presidency, winning high marks as he defeated leftist insurgencies, eliminated 7,000 percent inflation, brought electricity and water to dirt-poor villages, and achieved peace after a brief 1995 border war with Ecuador.

But lingering poverty, weariness with his autocratic ways, and his inability to convince Peruvians that he knew nothing about Mr. Montesinos' reputedly vast network of corruption including money laundering, narcotics trafficking and arms dealing finally brought him down.

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