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Bolivian President Resigns For Health Reasons

Bolivian President Hugo Banzer has resigned for health reasons, handing over power to Vice President Jorge Quiroga. Mr. Banzer's resignation Monday was an emotional event held in the country's constitutional capital, Sucre.

Appearing frail but with a strong voice, President Banzer formally presented his resignation Monday noting he is stepping down one year short from completing his five-year term.

Addressing lawmakers, members of his Cabinet and top military officers, Mr. Banzer said he is resigning for health reasons telling the gathering his treatment for cancer will be long and difficult and will not permit him to govern as he would like.

Following his speech, Mr. Banzer received an emotional embrace from his successor, Vice President Jorge Quiroga, and others while members of the audience applauded loudly. Mr. Banzer, who is 75, is suffering from lung and liver cancer. He announced his intention to step down last month while in Washington where he is receiving medical treatment.

Mr. Banzer, who was elected President in 1997, tried to lift the country out of poverty, modernize the judicial system, and combat the cultivation of coca the raw material used to make cocaine. His anti-drug policies were the most successful. Under his government and with the help of the United States, more than 30,000 hectares of coca were destroyed in the Chapare region once one of the world's largest producers of coca.

However, the Banzer government was unable to revive Bolivia's stagnant economy or do much to alleviate poverty. Economic growth was less than one ercent last year, while seven out of ten Bolivians live in poverty. This situation has given rise to growing unrest, and during Mr. Banzer's tenure there were numerous clashes between police and protesters.

A former general, Mr. Banzer had previously ruled the South American nation as a military dictator, from 1971 to 1978. After democratic rule was re-established in 1982, he repeatedly ran for President until finally winning election in 1997 with just 20 percent of the vote.

Monday's resignation, on Bolivia's Independence Day, came during a special session of Congress held in the southern colonial city of Sucre, the country's constitutional capital. Vice President Quiroga will take the oath of office on Tuesday in Sucre, before returning to La Paz the seat of government.

Mr. Banzer is expected to return to his home in Santa Cruz Tuesday, in Bolivia's tropical eastern lowlands. He then is scheduled to return to Washington on Wednesday, where he is being treated for cancer at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.