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Paraguay primed for unrest, new leader says

By Alan Clendenning
Associated Press / August 15, 2008
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ASUNCION, Paraguay - The odds are against Paraguay's president-elect even before he takes office today: Fernando Lugo says his impoverished nation "could go up in flames" within months.

The former Catholic bishop has made history by ending 61 years of authoritarian one-party rule, but his first task is to avoid political chaos and civil unrest, even as elements on the left and right challenge his authority.

Just last week, the sandal-clad Lugo couldn't find fuel for his diesel-powered SUV. Supplies of medicine have run out in public hospitals. And landless peasants who have been seizing private property are threatening a much larger wave of invasions in the hours after Lugo is sworn in before a host of foreign leaders.

Lugo's team suspects that the outgoing government is trying to undermine his presidency even before it begins, by letting critical supplies disappear and provoking confrontations.

"Distribution is deficient; there are absolutely no reserves. They haven't even done public bidding for health supplies. Imagine taking power Aug. 15 and finding no medications or diesel fuel. It is a country that could go up in flames within two or three months. This is why we say there is a kind of conspiracy to leave state institutions nonfunctioning," Lugo told reporters from Argentina and Paraguay's leading newspaper ABC Color after he stopped at an empty gas station.

Incoming interior minister Rafael Filizzola suspects that at least one land invasion was financed by Lugo's right-wing opponents. "There are backward-looking factions within this party who aspire to come back to power early and not democratically," Filizzola said.

Outgoing president Nicanor Duarte promised this week that he "will not sabotage Fernando Lugo nor create a climate of hostility during his term."

But he also criticized Lugo's cabinet choices and insisted that his conservative Colorado Party will continue to be a strong force throughout the country despite losing the presidency.

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