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Paraguay Lifts State of Emergency - 2002-07-17

Paraguay's President Luis Gonzalez Macchi has lifted a state of emergency that was imposed Monday to end protests against his government. The disturbances come amid economic difficulties, but also highlight a dangerous political rift in a country that has seen repeated coup attempts.

During two days of demonstrations this week, two protesters were killed in clashes with police, dozens were injured and hundreds were arrested.

A five-day state of emergency was declared shortly after the protests broke out Monday, but President Gonzalez Macchi has decided to lift it early, once security forces were able to clear roadblocks that had been placed by protesters on roads leading to Argentina and Brazil.

Mr. Gonzalez Macchi accused Opposition Vice President Julio Cesar Franco and exiled former military commander Lino Oviedo of being behind the unrest.

Presidential spokesman Jaime Bestard said he was extremely disappointed in the conduct of Mr. Franco. "We find it very surprising that a vice president would seek the fall of a government or look to protesters to destabilize the country," he said.

Mr. Franco said the protests were peaceful demonstrations against corruption and bad economic policies.

Supporters of former military chief Lino Oviedo acknowledged they were behind the protests, after initially denying any such role. Mr. Oviedo, who lives in self-imposed exile in Brazil, has been implicated in a string of failed coups since the mid-1990s and the assassination of Paraguay's vice president in 1999. That murder prompted the country's then-president Raul Cubas, an Oviedo ally, to resign. He was replaced by Mr. Gonzalez Macchi, who was head of the senate.

President Gonzalez Macchi Wednesday also set presidential elections for the end of April next year. Some polls show Mr. Oviedo is the early favorite to win those elections, if he is allowed to run.