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Fujimori rants at his trial

Peru's former president protests the rights abuse charges against him.

December 11, 2007|Adriana Leon and Patrick J. McDonnell | Special to The Times

LIMA, PERU — Former President Alberto Fujimori on Monday shouted at a panel of judges and declared he was "totally innocent" in an impassioned address on the opening day of his trial on allegations of human rights abuses.

"I reject the charges entirely!" an agitated Fujimori screamed at the three-judge Supreme Court panel presiding over his long-anticipated trial. "I am innocent and do not accept this accusation!"

His stunning outburst, broadcast live on television throughout Peru via a closed-circuit feed, marked a dramatic first day in the case. He seemed ill at ease early on and launched into a tirade when permitted to respond.

Fujimori, 69, is being tried in connection with the summary executions of 25 terrorism suspects allegedly linked to a former military death squad known as the Colina Group. Prosecutors have alleged "a clear chain of command" from the presidential palace to the killers.

The former leader also faces corruption and other charges. If convicted, he could face up to 30 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.

Many Peruvians were glued to televisions to watch the emotional eruption from a man who remains a kind of secular savior for many and a ruthless and corrupt ex-strongman for others. His extradition from neighboring Chile in September has reopened many of the wounds from his tumultuous 1990-2000 rule.

It was a period that began with intense economic instability and a bloody guerrilla war featuring assorted leftist groups, notably the Maoist-inspired Shining Path. Even many of Fujimori's critics acknowledge that as president, he did much to bring the nation back from the precipice -- his authoritarian ways and 1992 suspension of the constitution notwithstanding.

The combative Fujimori argued that he had saved a nation free-falling toward anarchy.

"I took over a country in collapse, overwhelmed with hyperinflation, international financial isolation and widespread terrorism," said the bespectacled ex-president and onetime college rector. "A country losing blood, with 50% of the territory controlled by these terrorist followers, and the armed forces without arms."

His administration, he argued, had implemented "reforms within the context of the respect of human rights." He explicitly denied any personal responsibility for any abuses that may have been committed.

"If some execrable acts were committed, I condemn them," Fujimori declared. "But they weren't ordered by the person who speaks."

In the courtroom, Fujimori's theatrical soliloquy reached such a fever pitch that the chief judge, Cesar San Martin, warned him to tone it down, reminding him: "I am in charge here."

An afternoon session was postponed until Wednesday after Fujimori experienced a "crisis of hypertension," a court physician said.

Human rights activists have welcomed the trial as a shot against the bow of the official impunity and judicial feebleness that have long beset Peru. Relatives of those killed during the Fujimori years labeled his actions Monday as the pathetic excuses of a man unable to accept responsibility.

But Fujimori supporters have called the proceedings an act of revenge directed against an ailing patriot. "I am sure that my father will leave triumphantly," Keiko Fujimori, a congresswoman and the ex-president's daughter, told reporters.

Outside the courtroom, critics and supporters of Fujimori clashed in noisy demonstrations, and riot police intervened.

Fujimori fled Peru in 2000 amid a corruption scandal. He resigned the presidency via fax. He lived in Japan in comfortable exile before his arrest in Chile in late 2005, during an aborted bid to return to Peru and resume his political career.

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

Special correspondent Leon reported from Lima and Times staff writer McDonnell from Buenos Aires.

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