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Fujimori Requests International Support for Peruvian Government

By Norman Kempster

and Sebastian Rotella
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori took a hastily arranged trip to the U.S. capital Thursday to appeal for international support for his troubled regime and his plan to remain in office until new elections are held next year.

With accusations that the military is planning a coup swirling back home in Lima, Fujimori conferred with Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the Organization of American States. He was scheduled to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright Friday.

After months of ignoring U.S. and OAS criticism for securing a constitutionally dubious third term as president amid accusations of electoral fraud, Fujimori has said he is ready to relinquish power. Stunned by a bribery scandal involving his former intelligence chief, Fujimori announced Sept. 16 that he will step down after new elections next year in which he will not be a candidate.

U.S. and OAS officials said they hope to dampen talk of a military takeover in Peru and are backing Fujimori’s plan to relinquish power next year. But it is not clear whether Fujimori will be able to maintain his increasingly shaky grip on power, no matter how much outside diplomatic assistance he receives.

A delegation of OAS officials seeking to broker a restoration of democracy has been in Lima, the Peruvian capital, since before the president’s surprise call for new elections. The OAS is a regional organization that includes all nations in the Western Hemisphere, although Cuba’s membership has been suspended.

State Department spokesman Philip T. Reeker said Thursday that Albright and other administration officials will tell Fujimori that Washington supports “a peaceful, democratic and constitutional transition of power” as well as “the continuation of that OAS dialogue.”

Fujimori is “suddenly become an OAS convert,” said another State Department official, who asked not to be identified, probably because the reference to the Peruvian leader’s earlier defiance of the OAS could be seen as undiplomatic.

Fujimori’s autocratic regime crumbled after Vladimiro Montesinos -- the head of Peru’s feared National Intelligence Service, or SIN, and once the major power behind the presidency -- was videotaped apparently bribing an opposition member of Peru’s Congress. Fujimori fired Montesinos and ordered his organization disbanded. On Sunday, the former intelligence chief fled to Panama, which reluctantly gave him temporary refuge with U.S. encouragement.

The departure of Montesinos diminished his power, but did not obliterate it. His allies still fill many sensitive posts in Fujimori’s government, especially in the military.

Peruvian leaders and foreign diplomats worry that Montesinos is trying to destabilize the government from his Panamanian exile with what survives of an intelligence apparatus that long-controlled the military, justice system, media and legislators. It is hard to be sure where Montesinos’ influence ends and paranoia begins, but there are concrete signs of a campaign against the Peruvian president.

Nonetheless, Fujimori’s trip to Washington was seen as a calculated statement of self-confidence. Peruvian observers believe that during the meetings with U.S. and Latin American diplomats he will discuss plans for reforming democratic institutions in preparation for the new elections.