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Paraguay president faces impeachment trial

- Associated Press - Thursday, June 21, 2012

ASUNCION, PARAGUAY — Paraguayan lawmakers voted to impeach President Fernando Lugo for his role in a deadly clash involving landless farmers and announced that the former Roman Catholic bishop's impeachment trial would begin on Friday in the Senate.

Mr. Lugo, who was elected four years ago on promises that he would help the South American country's poor, went on national television to dismiss rumors that he would resign and vowed to face the trial "with all its consequences."

The lower house voted to 76-1 Thursday to impeach the president, and hours later the Senate announced that it will begin his impeachment trial on Friday.

The vote added to the political turmoil in the poor, landlocked country with a history of political instability and prompted frightened residents of the capital, Asuncion, to shutter businesses and pull children from school. Hospitals were put on alert, freeing up beds, in the face of possible violence.

Paraguayans were unnerved by the looming showdown in the opposition-controlled Senate and the possibility that it could spark street protests such as those that followed the March 1999 assassination of Vice President Luis Maria Argana.

"We are not going to escape turbulence, it's coming," said Paraguayan political analyst Horacio Galeano Perrone, who specializes in national defense issues. "If you were to ask me, I'd tell you to go to the supermarket and buy batteries, buy everything."

Mr. Lugo's election in 2008 ended 61 years of rule by the Colorado Party, and he has constantly clashed with Congress, where he has few firm allies.

His election was seen as being part of South America's leftward swing. If ousted, Mr. Lugo would be replaced by Vice President Federico Franco.

Critics blame Mr. Lugo for the violence that erupted last week when police tried to evict about 150 farmers from a 4,900-acre reserve, which is part of a huge estate owned by a Colorado Party politician.

Advocates for the farmers say the landowner used political influence to get the land from the state decades ago, and say it should have been put to use for land reform.

Seventeen people died in the clash.

Mr. Lugo, 63, has expressed sorrow at the confrontation and accepted the resignations of his interior minister and his chief of police.

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