In riot aftermath, Peru braces for tough tactics

Arrests of opposition members could follow after six were killed Friday in Lima.

In the wake of rioting that led to the burning of the National Electoral Board building and State Bank, and the deaths of six people here last week, President Alberto Fujimori appears poised to crank the no-tolerance vise on detractors, much as he did with leftist terrorists 10 years ago.

The president was sworn in for a third term Friday amid strident criticism that May's election was corrupt and unfair. At the behest of opposition leaders such as former presidential candidate Alejandro Toledo, citizens from the mountains to the jungles arrived in Lima last week for what was to be a massive - but peaceful - demonstration. But two initial days of calm and peaceful protest quickly deteriorated into the worst violence the nation has seen in recent years.

Analysts warn that Mr. Fujimori's response, from ordering police to detonate tear-gas bombs to his phlegmatic rhetoric, indicates that the confrontational Fujimori is back.

"In his address Fujimori didn't admit any errors in any area, neither political nor economic," says Fernando Rospigliosi, a Lima political analyst. "He was aggressive and didn't propose any kind of dialogue with the opposition or offer windows to democratize...."

Along with squashing the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru guerrillas in the early '90s, Fujimori also jump-started an ailing economy by encouraging foreign investment. In addition to his hardline tactics, the president is staying consistent with the other facet of his early regime: shoring up financial health.

In a gesture apparently designed to appease investors and local business leaders, Fujimori recalled spending hawk Carlos Bolona to head the Economy Ministry. He held the job in 1991 and 1992, during Fujimori's first term, and was widely praised for leading a privatization program.

But without democratic reforms, most analysts concur, the political and economic situation is likely to worsen. Peru is currently heading into what could be a third consecutive year of slow economic growth.

"Without foreign investment Peru is in deep trouble. To the extent that there are situations of tension and polarization it makes investors very concerned about getting involved in a country whose future looks uncertain," says Michael Shifter a senior fellow with The Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank.

If foreign investment and economic growth slow, it could erode his base of support among businessmen and the nation's poorest sectors. It could also produce more social unrest and political instability, analysts say.

On Friday, Peruvians got a glimpse of the tensions at work. While chaos raged in the streets, inside the Congress the situation was electric, if less noisy. Moments before Fujimori was sworn in and addressed the nation, opposition members of Congress walked out. In his speech, Fujimori mentioned instituting the democratic reforms the international community demanded in the aftermath of highly questioned elections, but he failed to elaborate.

In the aftermath of the violence, each side blames the other for the unfortunate outcome of the recent protest.

Government officials say opposition leader Alejandro Toledo and other march organizers called a march they couldn't control. In a speech the day after the protests,Fujimori lashed out against opposition leaders saying he holds them responsible for the death and destruction that occurred during the protests. Some observers suspect this reasoning will be used to justify the arrest of Toledo and other opposition leaders. Government officials also say this radicalized opposition gives the international community a negative image of Peru and that any eventual drop in foreign invest will be the opposition's fault.

Mr. Toledo, however, maintains that the deterioration of what started as a peaceful march was not his responsibility.

"The government planted infiltrators among the demonstrators to provoke violence and then stick us with the bill," Toledo said in a press conference later, adding that the police also provoked acts of violence by using excessive force. "What happened today is the exclusive responsibility of the government."

The conflict over where to lay the blame is also being played out among the citizens of Peru. The day after the protests, the streets were still glistening from the water shot from police water canons the day before. The bitter smell of tear gas still hung in the air while people solemnly swept up the glass and debris in front of their stores.

On the other side of the yellow police tape that cordoned off the charred rubble that was once the state bank, a crowd of onlookers argued about who's fault the destruction was.

Within earshot of the debate, Lenin Alegria, a bank employee, surveyed the smoking ruins of his workplace while police removed one of the last of the bodies from the wreckage. A friend of his was one of the victims of the fire.

"What are we doing trying to pin the blame on this one or that one? We aren't accomplishing anything. What we want is a solution to this chaos. This can't go on this way," Mr. Alegria said, shaking his head from side to side. "People are dead, and it certainly wasn't their fault."

*Material from the AP was used in this report.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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