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  Paraguay's President Resigns

By Katherine Ellison
Knight Ridder
Monday, March 29, 1999; Page A10

ASUNCION, Paraguay, March 28 – President Raul Cubas resigned today, following a week of extraordinary violence in this small landlocked nation, including the assassination of his vice president.

Cubas quit on the eve of an all-but-certain vote by Paraguay's Senate to remove him on a charge of obstructing justice. The Chamber of Deputies, the legislature's lower house, previously had impeached him.

Senate President Luis Gonzalez Macchi, the constitutionally designated replacement, was sworn in later this evening as president.

Cubas's awkward but decisive exit from power was guided by U.S. Ambassador Maura Harty, to whom a group of key legislators turned during a day marked by rising tension and rumors of troop movements.

"I ask apologies of all Paraguayans who voted for me, but . . . this president will not be responsible for any more bloodshed for political reasons," Cubas said, head down, as he peered grimly over his eyeglasses in a live television broadcast.

A wealthy engineer, Cubas had been president just seven months and 13 days, and was only the second freely elected civilian chief of state in the 188 years since Paraguay's independence.

But his unswerving allegiance to a former general, Lino Oviedo, cost him the presidency. Cubas was impeached for ignoring a Supreme Court order to send Oviedo to prison after Oviedo was convicted of attempting a coup in 1996 against Cubas's predecessor, Juan Carlos Wasmosy.

The impeachment effort lacked momentum until last Tuesday, when Vice President Luis Maria Argana, a fierce rival of Cubas, was ambushed and killed on his way to work. Although both denied any involvement, Cubas and Oviedo were widely blamed by Paraguayans.

Paraguayans were shocked once again Friday night, when snipers shot and killed four young protesters and wounded more than 150.

The deaths of the four demonstrators appear to have shocked many Paraguayans as much as or more than the Argana killing. At a Mass in the cathedral today, several people termed the violence worse than anything they'd witnessed even during the brutal dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner from 1954 to 1989.

As word leaked out that Cubas was planning to step down, celebratory fireworks exploded throughout the city, including in front of the pink, pillared congressional palace.

As Cubas evidently was preparing his statement, armed forces divisions one by one began releasing communiques stating their allegiance to Gonzalez Macchi.

Earlier this evening, Gonzalez Macchi and more than half a dozen other key legislators went to the U.S. Embassy, where they met for more than 90 minutes with Harty, working out the details of the transition of power.

"They had intended to meet with Cubas, but never actually did so," said a U.S. official who said Harty acted as a "messenger" with the besieged president. "We didn't necessarily put ourselves in the middle, but that's the way it often happens in this country."

Oviedo was reported to have left Paraguay in a private plane just before 6 p.m. His destination was unknown, and it was unclear if his exit was part of a deal with Cubas, although that was widely assumed here.

The gracelessness of it all was typical of Cubas's short rule, during which he was widely ridiculed as the puppet of Oviedo.

"It was indignation and shame that overthrew the government," said Asuncion Mayor Martin Burt. "The people said enough."

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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