Fujimori may be on his way out, but is his adviser?

Tuesday, Peru's leader dropped another bombshell: He won't budge any time soon. His closest ally may emerge scot-free from a scandal, but Fuji could be politically doomed.

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Embattled Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori may be on his way out following an explosive bribery scandal that forced the South American leader to call new elections, but his controversial adviser and intelligence chief implicated in the scandal appears to be going nowhere, at least for now.

Despite the constant vigil of protesters and attempts by a group of opposition Congress members to enter the National Intelligence Service headquarters, no one knows the whereabouts of intelligence head Vladimiro Montesinos, nicknamed "Peru's Rasputin" and considered by many experts to be the real power behind Mr. Fujimori's regime. When a videotape was broadcast last week of Mr. Montesinos bribing an opposition politician to switch to Fujimori's camp in this spring's questionably legitimate elections, the president had little choice but to resign.

Montesinos and his military backers have remained silent so far, but were said to be negotiating a behind-the-scenes solution with the president, who made a visit to Army headquarters in the wee hours Tuesday. Many in the South American nation had feared a coup was imminent.

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But Fujimori broke the silence on Tuesday night, when he climbed atop a fence surrounding the government palace to greet thousands of supporters, assuring the country that he remains in charge. He even hinted he might run again in 2006 -adding more confusion to just how Fujimori's announcement that he was stepping down would be implemented.

"There is no power vacuum. [My ministers and I] will continue working until the last day," Fujimori told reporters.

Fujimori rejected the opposition's calls for a transition government and said he will remain at the presidential helm for the next year. Elections are tentatively slated for March, with the transfer of power set for July 28.

Other constitutional reforms necessary for the transition will be passed in two special legislative sessions in December and January, Fujimori said. But the president failed to resolve a key question on many Peruvians' minds: Where is Montesinos?

Fujimori and his ministers maintained that Montesinos's whereabouts remain a mystery. Justice Minister Alberto Bustamante said even if he did know, he couldn't specify his location "for security reasons."

Fujimori said Montesinos's physical safety must be protected from possible reprisals at the hands of the drug traffickers and terrorists the intelligence chief has successfully battled during the past decade.

Fujimori's statements are the latest move in the ongoing jockeying for power between the president, the adviser, and his powerful military backers -a struggle many say Fujimori is losing.

"Montesinos continues running Peru, while Fujimori and his ministers come out to defend him," says Lima political analyst Fernando Rospigliosi. "The message behind the president's statements is clear: Fujimori leaves, but Montesinos stays."

An ex-Army-captain-turned-lawyer, Montesinos is believed to have put the contacts and know-how garnered from his years defending drug traffickers to ill use, coming to control a significant portion of the drug flow out of Peru. During his 10 years at the president's side, Montesinos is said to have handpicked many of the military's top officers, many of whom may be implicated in Montesinos's shady dealings. Some suspect Montesinos has incriminating evidence on Fujimori.

"Fujimori thought he could step down and take Montesinos with him, but he's discovered that's not the case. Montesinos is winning the game. Fujimori has sacrificed his presidency for nothing," says Mirko Lauer, a political columnist with the Lima newspaper La Republica.

No order has been issued to detain Montesinos, and the National Intelligence Service he controls remains intact. Tuesday, a Lima paper reported that Montesinos had been secretly whisked to the attorney general's office in Lima, where he presented himself to the prosecutor investigating the bribery case.

Observers discount the possibility of an independent investigation from the attorney general's office, which Montesinos is said to control. Twice in the past, prosecutors have shelved investigations into the origins of his multimillion-dollar bank accounts.

Others say Montesinos may yet decide to leave, but that he is ensuring his the exit occurs under favorable conditions. "The president has been negotiating a way out of the crisis, not with the opposition, but with Montesinos, whom he cannot remove," says political analyst Alberto Adrianzen. "The law proposals presented by government," he continues, "are part of this negotiation. Montesinos and the generals would like to see the transition last at least a year, to give them time to clean house and ensure their impunity."

Opposition leader and ex-presidential candidate Alejandro Toledo has insisted that elections be held within four months.

Though still demanding Montesinos's capture, opposition leaders announced they would resume participation in talks sponsored by the Organization of American States. Following the incriminating video's release, the opposition pulled out of the dialogue and conditioned future participation on Montesinos's arrest.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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