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Guatemalan Ex-Dictator Rios Montt Declared Eligible to Run for President - 2003-07-15

Guatemala's highest court has ruled that former military dictator and current legislative President Efrain Rios Montt is eligible to run for president in the November elections. Mr. Rios Montt's candidacy was rejected in two previous elections, because of a constitutional ban prohibiting former dictators from running for president.

Guatemala's constitutional court has ruled 4-3, in favor of Efrain Rios Montt's candidacy - opening the door for the 77-year-old evangelical Christian preacher and one-time right-wing military dictator to run for president.

Jorge Arevalo is the lawyer for the Guatemalan Republican Front - the party Mr. Rios Montt directs from his post as legislative president. Calling the ruling a blessing from God, Mr. Arevalo says the judicial action is a triumph for democracy in Guatemala.

But some legal analysts say the court decision is a low blow to the rule of law. They say the constitutional ban on the candidacy of former dictators is very clear. They say the court's decision is a political one and not one that respects the constitution of Guatemala.

The decision has also incensed some human rights advocates, who say Mr. Rios Montt does not have the ethical or moral authority to run for president. He has been accused of being among those responsible for genocide against Maya Indians, during Guatemala's 36-year civil war.

Human rights leaders estimate some 60,000 people, most of them civilians, were killed during Mr. Rios Montt's brief yet iron-fisted rule in 1982 and 1983.

But Aristides Crespo, secretary general of Mr. Rios Montt's party, celebrates the courts ruling, saying justice was done. He says he is satisfied with the ruling and that next phase is to win the election, November 9.