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Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, 93, longtime dictator of Paraguay

BRASILIA -- Alfredo Stroessner, the canny anti-communist general who ruled Paraguay with a blend of force, guile, and patronage before his ouster in 1989, died in exile yesterday. He was 93.

General Stroessner caught pneumonia after a hernia operation in Brazil's capital, where he had lived in isolation since he was forced from power. He died of a stroke in the Hospital Santa Luzia, family members said. The family was considering a funeral in Brasilia and a burial in Encarnación, the Paraguayan city where the former dictator was born.

In Asuncion, the government of President Nicanor Duarte said it did not plan to honor him.

"We're finally turning a page in history, putting a physical end to the dictatorship," said Jose Nicolas Morinigo, a senator from the Solidarity Country party.

The son of a German immigrant father and a Paraguayan mother, General Stroessner seized power in a 1954 coup after 27 years of political chaos that churned through 22 presidents. Through rigged reelections and repression, he governed Paraguay longer than any other contemporary head of state in the Western Hemisphere.

He remains hated by many in Paraguay. Corruption and human rights abuses were rampant during his rule in an era when repressive military dictators, often with US backing, held power in many Latin America countries.

Paraguay under General Stroessner also became a refuge for Nazi war criminals, including Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous ``Angel of Death" at Auschwitz.

But even some of his fiercest critics predicted General Stroessner also would be remembered for bringing Paraguay into modern times.

While human rights violations increased, his rule also saw increased stability and progress in the landlocked country, which had been known for economic stagnation and political turmoil.

General Stroessner oversaw Paraguay's transformation from a country with open sewers and no running water, even in the capital, to a relatively prosperous and modern nation. His public works projects included the $16 billion Itaipu dam, built with neighboring Brazil, which began producing power in early 1985. But most of the new wealth did not reach average citizens in the nation of 3.8 million people.

General Stroessner, meanwhile, put his name on schools, public buildings, and the international airport. An important river port was christened Puerto Stroessner. His portrait decorated the walls of public offices, shops, and living rooms, and a huge neon sign in a central plaza of the capital, Asunción, blinked the message: ``Stroessner: Peace, Work and Well-being."

Public dissatisfaction with his regime became increasingly evident in the mid-1980s and protesters and police sometimes fought in the streets of Asunción.

The general described virtually all his opponents as Marxist subversives bent on returning the country to political chaos.

A staunch U S ally, General Stroessner was stung in 1986 when the Reagan administration put his regime on its list of Latin American dictatorships. Among the others was Nicaragua, whose Sandinista rebels had overthrown his friend President Anastasio Somoza and assassinated him in exile in Paraguay.

A significant segment of the ruling Colorado Party, his main tool of political control, began to accuse him of repression and dictatorial tactics.

General Stroessner tried to consolidate his power in late 1988, ordering many military officers to retire and trying to force retirement on a powerful army commander and a former ally, General Andres Rodriguez. Rodriguez rebelled on Feb. 2, 1988, sending soldiers and tanks to the presidential guard headquarters, where General Stroessner had taken refuge. General Stroessner surrendered and went into exile in Brazil.

A civilian government in Paraguay was elected in 1993.

General Stroessner was granted political asylum and lived as a recluse in Brazil, where his asylum status made extradition impossible. He never returned to Paraguay, where he faced charges of homicide and torture.

Paraguay has sought for years to question General Stroessner about government opponents' ``disappearances." Human rights activists say General Stroessner's government was a key part of ``Operation Condor," a network of right-wing military governments secretly supported by U S intelligence agencies, that repressed leftist dissidents across South America in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Material from Reuters was used in this obituary.

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