Lawmakers vote to oust Paraguay's president

Associated Press Modified: June 22, 2012 at 5:16 pm •  Published: June 22, 2012
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ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — Paraguay's Senate voted to remove President Fernando Lugo from office on Friday in an impeachment trial that plunged the South American country into a crisis.

After a quick, five-hour trial, 39 senators voted to dismiss Lugo, while four senators voted against and two were absent. Based on the decision, Lugo is to be replaced by Vice President Federico Franco of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party.

Crowds of pro-Lugo protesters took to the streets condemning the impeachment trial and expressing support for the president. Police in anti-riot gear drove them back on horseback and using water cannon.

Paraguay's lower house of Congress voted to impeach Lugo on Thursday. The Senate tried him on five charges of malfeasance in office, including an alleged role in a deadly confrontation between police and landless farmers that left 17 dead.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, who traveled to Paraguay ahead of the vote as part of a delegation from the UNASUR regional bloc, denounced it as a "new type of coup."

"A truly shameful act has been committed," Maduro told reporters.

Lugo decided not to attend the trial, instead watching on television from the presidential palace while his lawyers spoke on his behalf.

The Senate rejected a request by his lawyers for a period of 18 days to prepare their arguments. The Senate's president, Jorge Oviedo, said there were no grounds for such a request.

Many schools shut down in Asuncion, and downtown shops closed their doors as a precaution.

The impoverished, landlocked nation has a long history of political instability. Lugo was elected four years ago on promises of helping the South American country's poor, but his more moderate government allies have increasingly turned against him in recent years.

Lugo's impeachment trial was triggered in part by an attempt by police to evict about 150 farmers from a remote, 4,900-acre (2,000-hectare) forest 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.

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