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Paraguay's Lugo forms 'parallel cabinet'

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Fernando Lugo, the deposed Paraguayan president, says he is aiming to return to power, rallying allies at home and abroad to force congress to reverse a vote to remove him that he called a break with democracy.

Lugo. 61, has created a parallel cabinet, attacking the legitimacy of the government that replaced him, and says he will plead his case on the international stage at this week's summit of the Mercosur, South America’s biggest trading bloc, in Mendoza, Argentina.

He also called on domestic backers, who so far have been relatively quiet, to turn up the pressure.

“I want to resist until we regain power because here there was a parliamentary coup,'' Lugo said on Monday.

“I call on people from the countryside, the youth and all citizens to resist until we are back in the office we unfairly had to leave.''

Meanwhile, aides to Lugo's former vice-president, Federico Franco, who took the oath of office on Friday after politicians overwhelmingly voted to impeach his boss, has sworn in a new cabinet, most of whose members were drawn from Paraguay's traditional Liberal and Colorado parties.

He also condemned a resolution by Mercosur preventing his new government from attending the summit.

“We reject Mercosur's decision to suspend us from the right to attend the Mercosur meetings, but I would like to make clear that Paraguay is not out of the bloc," Jose Felix Fernandez, Paraguay's foreign minister, said.

Government suspended

The suspension of Paraguay's official government from Mercosur was adopted on Sunday by the group's full members and associate states - Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

The statement expressed the group's "most energetic condemnation of the rupture of the democratic order that occurred in the Republic of Paraguay, for not having respected due process".

Lugo was hauled before the senate on Friday to face charges that he had poorly managed a land dispute that erupted in an armed clash June 15 between police and squatters.

Six police officers and 11 landless peasants were killed in an exchange of gunfire that erupted when police tried to evict the squatters from land owned by a wealthy opponent of Lugo.

The senate voted 39-4 on Friday to impeach Lugo, who initially accepted the verdict and stepped down.

Regional summit

Lugo, who had less than nine months to serve and was not seeking re-election as president of one of Latin America's poorest countries, told AFP news agency he planned also to attend an upcoming meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).

UNASUR has said it is preparing to hold a meeting in the Peruvian capital, Lima, in the coming days to discuss the situation in Paraguay, which currently holds the presidency of the regional grouping.

The Organisation of American States, which includes North American nations, announced that it would meet on Wednesday to discuss the situation in Paraguay.

Uruguay, however, expressed concern that the debate over Lugo's removal would overshadow all other issues before Mercosur, and its foreign minister noted that Paraguay was an ally in the trade group.

And Chile said it would not impose trade sanctions on Paraguay, one of the region's poorest countries.

Oil-rich Venezuela recalled its ambassador to the capital Asuncion and halted oil shipments over the move, with Chavez saying he would do nothing to support the "coup."

Constitutional crisis

Chavez compared the turn of events in Paraguay to the coup that toppled Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in June 2009, pushing the Central American country into an 18-month-long constitutional crisis.

"For us, the president of Paraguay is still Fernando Lugo. We do not recognise this new government," Chavez said in Caracas.

Argentina, which has condemned the move as a thinly-veiled "coup", has also pulled its ambassador from the country, as has Ecuador, while Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay said they were recalling their envoys for consultations.

El Salvador said it would not recognise the new government.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa said that at the UNASUR summit, his country would propose a return to "democratic order" in Paraguay. "

We cannot gloss over this legalistic nonsense," he said.

But a foreign policy adviser to the Brazilian government, Marco Aurelio Garcia, told the state-run Agencia Brasil that neither Brazil nor the other Mercosur states would intervene in Paraguay's internal affairs.

Garcia said it was time "to let the crisis in Paraguay decant to see how it comes out".


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