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September 23, 2017

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Outcry as Paraguay leader ousted in 'coup'

ASUNCION, Paraguay -- Paraguayan lawmakers have impeached President Fernando Lugo over his handling of a deadly land dispute, prompting an angry din across Latin America and refusals to recognize his successor.

In a 39-to-4 vote Friday, senators found Lugo, a 61-year-old former Catholic priest with a string of outstanding paternity cases, guilty of performing his duties badly during a land dispute last week that left 17 people dead.

An hour later, to cheers inside Congress and angry clashes outside, 49-year-old Vice President Federico Franco was sworn in as the new leader of one of Latin America's poorest nations.

"The process took place in a manner that was a little bit quick and it took me and all Paraguayans by surprise," Franco said, hours after taking the oath of office and as he set about swearing in new ministers.

Franco, a surgeon by training, has said he is inspired by former center-left Latin American leaders such as Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Chile's Michelle Bachelet.

Police, some on horseback, had used tear gas and water cannons to beat back crowds of thousands outside Congress chanting "Lugo, president!" and tearing down fences.

Lugo — who rose to power in 2008 as a champion of the poor, ending more than six decades of rule by the right-wing Colorado Party — called for calm in a brief speech before leaving the presidential palace.

"I submit to the decision of Congress," Lugo said, adding that "the history of Paraguay and its democracy have been deeply wounded."

"Today I retire as president, but not as a Paraguayan citizen," he said. "May the blood of the just not be spilled."

Holed up in the palace earlier while events in the Senate took their course, he said the lawmakers' action was "more than a coup d'etat — it's a parliamentary coup dressed up as a legal procedure."

A torrent of furious responses poured in from across the region, not just from traditional leftist allies like Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela, but also from centrist and right-wing governments in Argentina and Chile.

"Without any doubt there has been a coup d'etat in Paraguay. It is unacceptable," said Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner.

She added that the issue would be discussed next week at a summit of the South American trade bloc Mercosur, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

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