President Alberto Fujimori summoned his closest allies to the presidential palace after leaving Peru in political limbo with the bombshell announcement that he was calling new elections but would not run in them.
Meanwhile, hundreds of supporters mobbed opposition candidate Alejandro Toledo as he arrived at Jorge Chavez airport to rally Peru's splintered opposition ahead of the new election.
"There are great reasons to celebrate. This is a gigantic step toward the recovery of democracy and liberty," Mr. Toledo said, inviting supporters to a rally in central Lima's Plaza San Martin last night.
Fujimori, reelected in May in a runoff that the opposition boycotted and the international community condemned as flawed, stunned the nation Saturday with the news that he was calling an election as soon as possible, but would not seek another term.
Peru's armed forces, which staged a coup in 1968 and ruled until 1980, gave no hint of how they would react. Military headquarters remained calm amid suspicion that Fujimori's surprise announcement was an effort to head off damaging divisions in the armed forces.
His address to the nation Saturday was prompted by a scandal centering on allegations that Vladimiro Montesinos, his powerful spy chief - a man widely believed to have handpicked many of the military's top brass and rallied them behind Fujimori - had bribed an opposition lawmaker.
In telling Peru that the intelligence service was also being abolished, Fujimori apparently severed ties with the man who for a decade was his closest adviser and henchman.
Vice President Francisco Tudela told a local television station that the new election should be preceded by a referendum on constitutional and electoral reforms to ensure fairness.
"We need a realistic, practical agenda, with three or four points to allow us to make progress, I think. One is necessary reforms to bring forward the elections, and the second is to renew the electoral system and install an adviser so that there aren't doubts about how well it works," he said.
He said a pre-vote referendum could be put to Peruvians in 60 to 90 days.
Tudela, a former foreign minister and ambassador to the United Nations who is seen as having better democratic credentials than Fujimori, has been tipped as a possible interim leader if Peru installs a transitional government.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society