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Fujimori holds fast as scandal rocks Peru


LIMA, Peru - President Alberto K. Fujimori rejected calls for his resignation last night and defiantly declared that he would remain in power until next year despite a bribery scandal that has rocked his government.

"I continue to govern. I'm the president of the republic. I have not resigned," Fujimori said at a news conference at the National Palace.

Critics have insisted that Peru's political crisis, which was sparked last week by a bribery scandal involving the president's top aide, Vladimiro Montesinos, is so dire that Fujimori should step down immediately and make way for a transition government that would rule until a new vote can be held.

On Saturday, Fujimori shocked the nation by calling for new elections and announcing that he would not run. He also announced that he would disband the National Intelligence Service, which is run by Montesinos.

In his first public appearance since making that bombshell announcement, Fujimori emerged from the National Palace last night and waved to thousands of cheering supporters, whom critics claimed were bused in by the government.

Accompanied by his daughter, Keiko Sofia, who waved a Peruvian flag, the president stood atop the palace's immense concrete gate.

Montesinos stayed out of sight Tuesday following a swirl of rumors that he had been placed under arrest.

At the news conference, Fujimori and Cabinet officials said that they did not know the whereabouts of Montesinos, but added that he would face justice for allegedly paying an opposition congressman $15,000 to join Fujimori's party.

"We don't know where he is," said Prime Minister Alberto Bustamante. "We know he is in Lima and that he hasn't left the country. We know he's not detained."

Fujimori said he made his decision to call early elections after talking with his daughter in the wake of the scandal. He denied that the United States had pressured him to make the move.

"There was not one call [from Washington]. There was not one suggestion. Zero," the president said. "I have excellent relations with the United States."

He also outlined a timetable for congressional and presidential elections to be held next year.

Fujimori said that before an election date can be set, Congress will have to approve a constitutional amendment reducing his five-year term to one year. The amendment would have to be approved in two consecutive legislative periods, a process that would last into January.

Balloting would likely take place in March, Bustamante said, and the new president would take office on July 28, 2001.

Earlier yesterday, Ernesto Gamarra, an opposition lawmaker, called for new presidential and congressional elections to be held "as soon as possible."

"If this uncertainty lasts any longer, it will cause many problems for the country, and nobody wants that," he said.

Fernando Olivera, the opposition lawmaker who released the video that appeared to show Montesinos offering the bribe, said yesterday that the spy chief had threatened to instigate a military coup if more tapes were made public.

Olivera, who claims to possess several more compromising videotapes, said a Montesinos aide approached legislators last week and demanded that they absolve the spy chief of any blame in the bribery scandal.

The Montesinos emissary "proposed a kind of immunity pact under the threat of terror," Olivera said. "If we released one more video, he would go forward with the threat, which was that there would be a bloody military coup."

Political analysts speculated that Montesinos may be negotiating the terms of his exit from the government with top military officers, most of whom are believed to be loyal to the spy chief.

Although the military has yet to offer public backing for Fujimori's plan to call elections and disband the intelligence service, the president said yesterday that he enjoys full backing from the armed forces.

"The armed forces have expressed their recognition. This recognition is permanent. It is institutional," Fujimori said. "What we have here is total stability, a government with difficulties but one that is stable."

Montesinos, a former army captain, was thrown out of the military in 1977 for passing secrets about Peruvian arms purchases to the CIA. As Fujimori's top intelligence officer, however, he has exercised great influence over the armed forces.

"The military has allowed Montesinos special treatment. They continue to meet with him in secret," said opposition politician Carlos Ferrero. "Everyone knows that many of the military chiefs are his personal friends, because they were put in their posts by Montesinos,"

Alejandro Toledo, who pulled out of Peru's May 28 presidential runoff vote after claiming it was rigged, said Fujimori cannot be trusted to run clean elections. He said Fujimori should hand over power to a transition government and that the new vote should take place within four months.

Several politicians have suggested that Jorge Santistevan, the respected government ombudsman, should serve as interim president.

Despite Toledo's high profile, a survey released yesterday by the Apoyo polling firm showed that there is no clear front-runner for president among the opposition. According to the poll, public opinion is divided among Toledo, Olivera, Lima Mayor Alberto Andrade and a handful of other politicians.

Toledo called on government foes to remain united.

"Now is not the time to speak of candidates. Let's not divide ourselves," he said.

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