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Peru's New President Faces Severe Challenges - 2001-07-28

As a boy, he shined shoes and sold newspapers, but Saturday, Alejandro Toledo became president of Peru. He is also the first person of Indian descent to assume the South American nation's highest office. The new president faces severe challenges as a result of the political and economic turmoil of the past year.

After taking the oath and putting on the red and white Peruvian presidential sash, Alejandro Toledo hailed his nation's new democratic path and pledges to fight for a better future for all his people. The first person of Indian heritage to become president of Peru said his will be a government that embraces all cultures and races.

Mr. Toledo said he will be the president of all bloodlines. He said his first obligation is to promote unity in order to lead his nation to a better future. He said he wants to heal wounds left over from the political turmoil of the past year in which former President Alberto Fujimori fled the country and then resigned after accusations of corruption emerged.

Mr. Toledo also said he does not seek revenge. He stressed that the future of Peru is much greater than its past and that he opens his arms to all Peruvians who can help him build that better future.

At the same time, however, President Toledo made it clear that he would not allow crimes against the people to go unpunished. He gave his firm backing to a truth commission looking into human rights abuses under the Fujimori government and he also pledged an investigation of corruption at every level of government.

In what he called a "frontal assault on poverty," the new Peruvian leader called on the Congress to approve measures to stimulate the growth of jobs and alleviate the poverty that affects half the population. He also asked for an increase in education spending from the current level of about 14 percent of total government spending to a level of 30 percent.

President Toledo also called for a reduction in spending on military weapons, not only in Peru, but throughout the region, saying that it makes no sense for nations who are friendly neighbors to arm themselves against each other. He said the funds currently spent on weapons would be better applied to education and development.

Political analysts say the new government will have to act quickly to fulfill the many promises that have been made. Social discontent stirred by the errors of the Fujimori government is evident throughout the country and workers, farmers and various political groups have taken to the streets and highways in recent weeks to press their demands.

Analysts say Mr. Toledo has created great expectations with the rhetoric of his campaign and the promises he made in his inaugural address. Now, they say, he must work quickly to produce results.