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Paraguay leader tries to quell diplomatic fallout

Associated Press Modified: June 23, 2012 at 8:45 pm •  Published: June 23, 2012

Honduras' interim president was isolated by many Latin American governments, and his elected successor, Porfirio Lobo, only really won the good graces of some in 2011 after Venezuela's Hugo Chavez brokered a reconciliation deal with Zelaya.

Many shops were closed and streets were quiet Saturday, but the calm was broken at night by a protest at a public television station created by Lugo's administration. About 200 people shouted "no to censorship, no to repression," and demanded the station be allowed to continue to operate independently of the Franco government's interests.

"We are here to defend public television so it continues to be public, not part of a government and much less an illegitimate one that rose from a criminal maneuver," protester Ricardo Zarratea.

Local media reported allegations that Franco's communications advisor showed up at the station Friday and demanded the programming schedule. The director of Television Publica resigned hours after Lugo was ousted.

Lugo resigned as a Roman Catholic bishop to run for president in 2008 against the wishes of Pope Benedict XVI, who grudgingly accepted the resignation when it became clear Lugo would not be dissuaded.

On Saturday, the Vatican's envoy to Paraguay stopped short of recognizing the new government but expressed satisfaction there has been little unrest other than some confrontations between Lugo supporters and police during the Senate trial.

"I am very pleased that the people and authorities have thought of the good of the country, which is to keep giving one's best for the fatherland," envoy Antonio Ariotti said, adding that he would read a message from the Vatican in the evening.

The German ambassador was also seen visiting the presidential palace.

"We will continue as normal with all cooperation agreements with Paraguay. We see the process of change happening within the laws and the constitution, because no parliament makes a coup d'etat," Ambassador Claude Robert Ellner.

The U.S. State Department urged "all Paraguayans to act peacefully, with calm and responsibility, in the spirit of Paraguay's democratic principles."

At Lugo's home in a quiet residential neighborhood of Asuncion, a close political ally said the former priest would not be making any comment Saturday.

Lugo was in good spirits, had spoken by phone the previous night with leaders like Chavez, and was now focused on moving his things out of the presidential residence with the help of his nephews, said Sen. Alberto Grillon, one of the four to back Lugo in Friday's vote.

Lugo had locked horns with a virulent opposition from the beginning of his term in 2008. He was criticized by some as being unyielding and unwilling to compromise; meanwhile Paraguay's powerful elite, long accustomed to getting their way during 61 years of Colorado single-party rule, fought Lugo's attempts to raise taxes on No. 1 export soy and redistribute farmland to the poor majority.

There had been talk of impeaching Lugo in the past, but never enough support in Congress. Ultimately, a deadly forest clash between police and landless protesters cost Lugo all but a handful of votes in both legislative houses, setting the stage for his rapid removal.


Associated Press writers Pedro Servin in Asuncion and Ian James in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.


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