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Behind the Story : Peruvians Get Close-Up Look at the 'Fujiway' : * After President Fujimori moved to rule by decree, observers agreed that he is full of surprises.


Some suspicious critics contend that Montesinos masterminded Fujimori's alliance with army generals and may even have engineered the April 5 coup.

"Apparently, Montesinos rules," said Congresswoman Lourdes Flores. But other analysts say Fujimori is clearly his own man and the undisputed coup leader.

"Mr. Fujimori has a strong personality," said a retired army colonel who closely monitors Peruvian politics. "A leader is emerging who overshadows all the others. . . . He's a daring guy, and he's making his play."

While the exact role of Montesinos is not clear, he is known to derive important powers from his close relationship with the president.

The same can be said for the president's brother, Santiago. And that is what gave the foreign aid skimming scandal its importance.

Political analyst Fernando Rospigliosi observed that the lower house of the now-closed Congress was preparing to form a commission to investigate the scandal, which involved alleged profiteering on clothing donations from Japan.

It was the president's wife, Susana, who first accused his sister and Santiago Fujimori's wife of selling the best of the donated clothes instead of giving them to poor Peruvians. Local gossips say the first lady went public because of a squabble with her husband and in-laws.

"If an investigation had been made, it would have found them guilty," Rospigliosi said.

And Santiago Fujimori might have been forced out of the presidential palace, to his brother's political embarrassment.

But according to Rospigliosi, Fujimori's main reason for shutting the Congress and courts was to give himself a freer hand to deal with the country's increasingly intractable problems of economic and social development, guerrilla warfare, government corruption and inefficiency.

De Soto, the former presidential adviser, portrays Fujimori as a pragmatic but still relatively inexperienced politician who made a mistake. "You've got to see this as the trial and error of a president who's trying to find his way," De Soto told a group of foreign correspondents last week.

He said that once Fujimori sees that an authoritarian government runs the risk of international isolation and an eventual military takeover, he will negotiate a compromise with his political opponents for returning to democracy.

"I have seen the president, when presented with concrete alternatives, actually change his mind," De Soto said. "He is very pragmatic."

Also unpredictable. And so, Peru finds itself uneasily awaiting the next "Fujisurprise."

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