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Fujimori blames inaugural fires, rioting on opposition

SHARE Fujimori blames inaugural fires, rioting on opposition

LIMA, Peru — President Alberto Fujimori accused his opponents Saturday of plotting to set fire to Congress during clashes that marred his inauguration, delivering his most blistering attack in years on Peru's opposition.

The visibly angry Fujimori, comparing his opponents to leftist terrorists, lay the blame on them for rioting Friday that left six people dead and several downtown buildings in flames during demonstrations by tens of thousands of Peruvians against his inauguration.

Addressing the military high command, he said the demonstrators had conceived a "totally delirious plan to burn the Congress building so that the president-elect could not be sworn in."

"What infamy if they had burned Congress!" Fujimori declared, praising security forces for cracking down on demonstrators and allowing him to take the oath of office Friday in the Congress building.

"Not having achieved their objective, they burned several buildings," Fujimori said of the demonstrators. A state bank and the offices of the national election board, which oversaw Fujimori's tainted May 28 re-election, were among the buildings burned Friday.

Fujimori's harsh rhetoric against his opponents reflected how polarized the country has become over his installation for an unprecedented third five-year term, amid rising opposition to his authoritarian rule.

Tear gas and smoke darkened the skies over the capital Lima when protesters battled police Friday in the streets. At least 80 people were injured in the clashes. On Saturday, the last two victims were removed in black body bags from the state bank as streetsweepers cleaned up glass and graffiti reading "Down with the Dictatorship!" Tensions had lifted and security was noticeably scaled back from the 40,000 police out on the streets Friday.

Fujimori told the high command that the supposed plot was comparable to another plan uncovered in 1995 by leftist Tupac Amaru rebels to seize Congress and take hostages. A crackdown on that movement followed, with numerous arrests.

"For 10 years, Peru endured the scourge of extremist violence," he said, adding the country will not be forced to return to "times of savagery that cast many Peruvian homes into mourning and destroyed public and private property."

He did not give details of the plot. But without naming anyone, he laid blame squarely on organizers who brought tens of thousands of demonstrators to Lima. That march had Fujimori's opposition challenger as its figurehead: Alejandro Toledo, the 54-year-old Stanford University-trained economist who had called for a large, nonviolent march.

New Prime Minister Federico Salas, sworn in earlier in the day to his largely ceremonial post, also blamed the organizers of the anti-Fujimori protest.

"We hold these organizers directly responsible for all that went on," Salas said.

Toledo blamed the unrest on what he said were dozens of pro-Fujimori infiltrators sent to discredit the protesters. He said late Friday that Fujimori was "inaugurated behind the tanks and rifles because he does not have the support of the people."

He vowed his peaceful movement would continue.

Political analyst Santiago Pedraglio said Peru's long-splintered opposition movement showed a newfound ability Friday to mobilize tens of thousands of people against the authoritarian government.

"Despite the lamentable violence and the terrible deaths yesterday, it is undeniable that the opposition now appears to be more solid and more unified," he said. "Many of those who mobilized don't identify themselves with any political party. There is a very large sector of citizenry that no longer wants Fujimori."

Fujimori touts the achievements of his government, including the defeat of leftist insurgencies and an end to economic chaos in the early 1990s.

But many Peruvians say they are tired of Fujimori's blatant disregard for democratic checks and balances and his failure to deliver on promises of jobs. In a country of 26 million, half of the work force makes less than the minimum wage of $120 a month.

Some, like former opposition Congresswoman Lourdes Flores Nano, openly worry about a government increasingly bereft of popular support and whose authority is questioned.

"The inauguration of a new term lacks the one central element for the stability of government: legitimacy," Flores Nano wrote in a column for El Comercio. "This is not a good start and doesn't bode well."