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Paraguay: Lawmakers oust president, face criticism

Paraguay`s Senate on Friday voted to impeach President Fernando Lugo, leading to his ouster.

Zeenews Bureau

Asuncion: Paraguay`s Senate on Friday voted to impeach President Fernando Lugo, leading to his ouster.

Calling it a blow to democracy, the former Roman Catholic bishop said he would step aside following Friday’s Senate vote to remove him from office.

The trial came a day after Paraguay`s lower house of Congress voted to impeach Lugo.

Lugo`s impeachment and ouster by lawmakers has plunged Paraguay into crisis and unleashed a wave of criticism by fellow leftist leaders in Latin America.

During the trial in the Senate, Lugo`s supporters had massed in the streets facing off with riot police. But Lugo later went on national television to say he would step down.

"I say goodbye as president," a smiling Lugo said.

The Senate tried Lugo on five charges of malfeasance in office, including an alleged role in a deadly confrontation between police and landless farmers that left 17 dead.

After the five-hour trial, 39 senators voted to dismiss Lugo, while four senators voted against and two were absent.

It was a dramatic demise for the once-popular leader who previously had stepped down as a popular Roman Catholic "bishop of the poor" to run for the presidency amid a leftward swing in South America.

Lugo`s removal after nearly four years in office highlighted his inability to find a balance with one-time allies who increasingly disapproved of his leftist policies and strident, uncompromising style.

His quick acceptance of his ouster appeared to have prevented a bigger confrontation and potentially violent protests in the streets of Paraguay`s capital of Asuncion, where his supporters had gathered. But other South American presidents were critical of the impeachment trial, which several called a de-facto coup d`état.

"This goes beyond Fernando Lugo. It goes beyond Paraguay. It`s about true democracy for all of our America," said Ecuador`s leftist President, Rafael Correa, adding that his government will not recognise any government in Paraguay other than Lugo`s.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he won`t recognise the "illegal and illegitimate government" that replaced Lugo either. Chavez said his ally "preferred the sacrifice" of stepping aside, and that the trial had been a setup.

In Argentina, the government of President Cristina Fernandez said it "is not going to validate the coup d`état that just occurred" in Paraguay. Bolivian President Evo Morales also called it a coup.

The rapid and negative reaction by many South American governments does not bode well for the international acceptance of newly sworn-in President Federico Franco.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos also expressed concern. "These legal procedures shouldn`t be used to abuse," Santos said at a news conference. "What we want is to help stability and democracy be maintained in Paraguay."

Amid the criticism, Franco directed his foreign minister to try reach out to the region`s governments.

(With Agency inputs)

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