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23 Jun, 2012 00:19

Paraguayan Senate impeaches leftist president, causing international uproar

Thousands have been protesting the impeachment of leftist Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, many clashing with police. A number of Latin American countries called the impeachment illegitimate.

The the Senate of Paraguay voted to impeach President Fernando Lugo with 39 legislators in favor and four against. Lugo was immediately succeeded by his vice president, Federico Franco, who was sworn in in Congress.

News of Lugo’s impeachment sparked anger amongst thousands of his supporters who had gathered outside the Congress building in the country’s capital, Asuncion. Some of them reacted by tearing down fences, while police tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas and water cannons.

Lugo said he was submitting to Congress' decision, but added that the history of Paraguay and its democracy had been “wounded.

Today I retire as president, but not as Paraguayan citizen,” he stated.

Latin America's resounding reaction

Paraguay's neighbors responded by calling the motion illegitimate.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez responded by saying his country does not recognize Paraguay's new, “illegitimate government.” He told reporters that his ally Fernando Lugo "preferred the sacrifice" of stepping aside, and said the trial was a setup.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa also said his country would not recognize any government in Paraguay other than Lugo's.

"This goes beyond This goes beyond Fernando Lugo. It goes beyond Paraguay. It's about true democracy for all of our America," Correa said on television," Correa said on television.

In turn, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff proposed the expulsion of Paraguay from regional blocs MERCOSUR and UNASUR, as the impeachment proceedings violated the clauses within the organizations' charters aimed at preserving democracy.

Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner asserted that Argentina would not condone the "coup d'etat" that took place in Paraguay.

Leonel Fernandez, the President of the Dominican Republic, said Lugo's ouster was illegal and undemocratic.

The leaders of Bolivia and Nicaragua also denounced the impeachment.

Anonymous Hispano strikes

Online activists were quick to respond to the news of Lugo's impeachment.

The official websites of the country’s president, Congress, and Supreme Court were taken down by hacktivists. Anonymous Hispano claimed responsibility for the DDoS attacks via Twitter. Access to the congressional website was later restored.

The Paraguayan presidential website was later replaced with content from the liberal Argentine website Infobae.com. The main page was replaced with an interview article with political scientist Marcello Lachi, who reprimanded the Paraguayan legislature's action. That content was taken down soon afterwards.

A hasty trial against a popular president

The Senate, dominated by the opposition Colorado Party, conducted a speedy impeachment trial and found Lugo guilty of mishandling an altercation between landless farmers and the police that left 17 dead last week.

The trial was conducted just a day after the Chamber of Deputies, the country’s lower house of parliament, voted to impeach Lugo. Lugo’s lawyers tried to postpone the Senate impeachment trial, arguing that the defense needed more time to gather evidence. The president himself accused the opposition of trying to carry out a coup d’etat.

Lugo was the country’s only president in decades not to be a member of the conservative Colorado Party, which has long been linked to big landowners that own most of the country’s property.

Lugo promised to redistribute land in favor of the country’s poorer population, which make up the majority.

Last week, police tried to remove some 150 landless farmers from an estate owned by a Colorado Party politician. The farmers fought back and the clash turned deadly. Ten farmers and seven policemen were killed. Among the dead was the brother of Lugo’s chief of military security.

In response, President Lugo sacked his interior minister and police chief.

However, that was not enough for the opposition, who commenced the impeachment proceedings.

The situation caused considerable concern for Paraguay’s neighbors.

The South American regional bloc UNASUR dispatched a ministerial delegation and warned against Lugo’s removal without due process.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa admonished the Paraguayan legislature, saying UNASUR could go as far as to sever ties with the country due to the violation of a “democracy clause” in the bloc’s charter.

We cannot recognize a new government, and may even have to close the borders,” Correa stated. “Internally they can do whatever they want, but their international recognition depends on our decision.