ARMORED personnel carriers surrounded the Peruvian Congress and other key buildings in Lima and took to the capital's main avenues after President Alberto Fujimori dissolved Congress and suspended the Constitution Sunday night.
In a televised speech to the nation, President Fujimori, elected 20 months ago, said he was dissolving the opposition-controlled Congress temporarily until a new structure for the legislature could be approved through a plebiscite. In the meantime, his Cabinet would assume legislative tasks, he said.
Fujimori accused lawmakers of blocking his free-market reforms and weakening the war on leftist rebels. Radio stations reported that security forces had placed opposition leaders under house arrest.
Fujimori said Peru's judicial branch would also be totally reorganized to assure an "efficient and honest administration of justice." Judges have been widely accused of taking payoffs and being lenient with left-wing guerrillas battling to overthrow the government.
Explaining his sudden move, Fujimori said Peru could not wait three years - the time it would take according to constitutional procedure - for a reform of the legislative branch. "The country cannot continue to be weakened by acts of terrorism, drug trafficking, and corruption," he said.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a statement saying the military and police had given "their most decided support" to the president.
"This is a coup dtat carried out from the Government Palace," Valentin Panagua, an expert on Peru's Constitution, said on local radio. He said the move to dissolve Congress and reorganize the judiciary violated several articles of the country's 1979 Constitution.
Soldiers were posted at newspapers and radio stations in Lima, and at least one radio station, Atena Uno, was closed by security forces, Radio Red reported.
Most lawmakers condemned the move, but several callers to Radio Red said they supported the decision.
Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, who lost to Fujimori in 1990 election, told Spanish national radio that the move is "subversive and unconstitutional."
"Peru is following in Haiti's footsteps by interrupting the process of democratization in Latin America," he said.