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Latin American leaders reject Paraguay 'coup'

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Paraguay's President Fernando LugoLatin American countries have expressed concern at the ouster of Paraguay's President Fernando Lugo, with leaders of three countries saying they will not recognise its new government.

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez, Ecuador President Rafael Correa and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Saturday said they would not recognise the government of newly-installed leader Frederico Franco, who was sworn in by the same senate which, minutes before, had voted out Lugo.

Paraguayan lawmakers on Friday impeached Lugo, 61, over his handling of a deadly land dispute.

In a 39-to-4 vote, senators found Lugo, a former Catholic priest with a string of outstanding paternity cases, guilty of performing his duties badly during the dispute last week that left 17 people dead.

An hour later, to cheers inside Congress and angry clashes outside, 49-year-old vice president Federico Franco was sworn in as the new leader of one of Latin America's poorest nations.

A torrent of furious responses poured in from across the region, not just from traditional leftist allies like Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela, but also from centrist and right-wing governments Argentina and Chile.

"Without any doubt there has been a coup d'etat in Paraguay. It is unacceptable." Argentina's Kirchner said.

She said the issue would be discussed next week at a summit of the South American trade bloc Mercosur, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Even in Santiago, where Sebastian Pinera is Chile's first right-wing president since the late dictator Augusto Pinochet left office, there was disbelief at the move.

The impeachment "did not fulfill the minimum requirements for this type of procedure," Alfredo Moreno, Chile's foreign minister, said on national television.

'Worthless, illegal government'

Ecuador's Correa meanwhile condemned the unprecedented speed of Lugo's one day impeachment trial.

"We're not going to cover up these actions that infringe terrible damage on our democracies and our peoples," he said.

"We the Ecuadorian government, independent of President Fernando Lugo Mendez's decision to accept his removal, will not recognise the new government of Paraguay. There will be elections in eight months in Paraguay and the government who is elected in those elections - if they're transparent and democratic - will then be recognizsd by the Ecuadorian government," Correa added.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said: "In the name of the Venezuelan people and as head of state, Venezuela does not recognise this worthless, illegal and illegitimate government that has been installed in Asuncion."

Central American nations issued a joint statement urging the international community to reject Lugo's impeachment.

In Washington, a US State Department spokeswoman, Darla Jordan, said: "We urge all Paraguayans to act peacefully, with calm and responsibility, in the spirit of Paraguay's democratic principles."

The surprise move against Lugo came after clashes last week left at least six police and 11 squatters dead on a huge estate poor farmers claim was acquired by political influence decades ago.

While Lugo condemned the trial, saying it was tantamount to a coup, he pledged to accept the verdict that found him guilty of mishandling the situation.

Paraguay's constitution only allows one presidential term, so Lugo would have stepped down in just over a year.

On taking over, Franco named a new foreign minister and charged him with explaining to governments elsewhere in Latin America that the impeachment drive was constitutional, albeit "a little quick".

Meanwhile on Friday, crowds of pro-Lugo protesters took to the streets condemning the impeachment trial and expressing support for the leader. Police in anti-riot gear drove them back on horseback and using water cannon.

The last time a Paraguayan leader was impeached was in 1999 when Raul Cubas was accused of failing to fulfill his duties following the murder of the vice president and the killing of seven protesters. Cubas resigned before a verdict was reached.

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