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Victims of Peru’s Alberto Fujimori rail against ex-president’s pardon

AFP-JIJI, Reuters

Families of victims of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori prepared Wednesday to intensify protests against a pardon given to the ex-leader, who was released from a 25-year term for murder and other human rights abuses.

They planned a fresh march on Thursday denouncing both the pardon and current President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who ordered Fujimori’s pardon on Sunday, three days after narrowly surviving impeachment on graft allegations thanks to Fujimori’s son Kenji.

In a sign of the heightened political tensions created by the pardon, Peru’s culture minister, Salvador del Solar, announced on Twitter he had submitted his resignation.

The minister — a 47-year-old popular movie and TV actor — had been fiercely opposed to a pardon for Fujimori.

The manager of Peru’s public broadcaster, Hugo Coya, also said he was stepping down following the pardon.

Their resignations came amid a public backlash against Kuczynski for decreeing the pardon.

“This is the second time I’ve put my trust in a president who’s failed me,” said one relative, Rosa Rojas. Rojas lost her husband and 8-year-old son in a 1991 massacre in Barrios Altos, a district in the capital, by a death squad acting under Fujimori’s orders.

Thursday’s protest will be the latest by various political and victims groups triggered by the pardon. They are denouncing the crimes committed during Fujimori’s brutal 1990-2000 reign and say the ex-president should not be shown leniency.

One rights group said it has asked the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to examine a challenge to the legality of the pardon. An official at the court said it was closed until Jan. 8 and could not consider accepting any request until then.

“We believe this is an illegal pardon because it doesn’t meet the conditions that Peruvian norms require for giving a pardon,” said Gisela Ortiz. She is the sister of one of nine university students who were kidnapped and murdered along with their professor by a death squad in a rural area near the capital in 1992.

Fujimori, 79, has been in a Lima clinic since Saturday. He was transferred from prison after suffering a drop in blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat.

His doctor, Alejandro Aguinaga, said Wednesday that for now, Fujimori “will continue to be hospitalized with restricted visits, except for family.”

The former leader admitted in a video recorded from his hospital bed that he had “let down” Peruvian citizens and “I ask them to forgive me with all my heart.”

He was sentenced in 2007 to 25 years in prison for the death-squad murders, as well as the kidnappings of a journalist and a businessman in 1992. Lesser convictions for corruption were subsumed into his maximum 25-year term.

Fujimori earned respect from many Peruvians for his ruthless and unflinching campaign to defeat leftist Shining Path guerrillas during his time in office.

But his brutal, illegal methods were also condemned by other parts of Peruvian society and foreign observers.

A U.N. human rights official and international rights groups warned his pardon would send the wrong signal about impunity in Latin America, a region still dealing with scars left from a number of dictators and autocrats in past decades.

Kuczynski said his pardon was given on humanitarian grounds, based on Fujimori’s ill health. Seven other prisoners were also pardoned on the same grounds.

A lawyer for the jailed Shining Path leader, Abimael Guzman, now 83, urged a pardon for his client, too, stressing that he was also ailing while serving life in prison on terror charges.

The timing of the pardon for Fujimori was seen by many in Peru as suspicious.

Last week, Kuczynski barely survived an impeachment motion in the opposition-controlled Congress. It was only because Kenji Fujimori had convinced some members of the Fuerza Popular party led by his sister Keiko not to support the impeachment that Kuczynski was not ousted.

Kuczynski was accused by lawmakers of lying to hide his financial links to Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction firm that has admitted to paying millions of dollars in bribes across Latin America to secure inflated public works contracts.

Kuczynski may reshuffle his Cabinet in the coming days, the prime minister announced on Wednesday.

Mercedes Araoz said Kuczynski, a 79-year-old former Wall Street investor, had asked her to remain at the helm of the Cabinet and to look for ways to strengthen it.

“The president asked me to carry out a comprehensive review and we’ll see what happens in coming days,” Araoz said at a news conference, her first public appearance since the pardon on Christmas Eve.

It was not clear which ministers may be vulnerable in any reshuffle, but a shake-up could herald a new rightward turn for Kuczynski’s government because Kuczynski’s former left-leaning supporters have denounced him as a “traitor” for pardoning Fujimori.

There was no plan to replace Finance Minister Claudia Cooper, a government source said.

Araoz said she respected Kuczynski’s decision to pardon Fujimori, and stressed he had been evaluating it long before the vote to oust him in Congress. “Neither I nor any member of my Cabinet nor the ruling party Peruvians for Change took part in any negotiation to trade a humanitarian pardon” for votes, said Araoz.

Earlier on Wednesday, culture minister Salvador del Solar announced his resignation on Twitter- the first Cabinet member to quit since the pardon was granted on Sunday.

A presidential adviser, at least three justice ministry officials and two state media personalities have also stepped down. Three ruling party lawmakers announced their resignations earlier this week, as the pardon triggered two days of unrest.