Paraguay's ousted Lugo calls for return to democracy

BUENOS AIRES Sun Jun 24, 2012 7:28pm BST

Ousted Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo talks to journalists outside his home in Lambare, on the outskirts of Asuncion, June 23, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer

Ousted Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo talks to journalists outside his home in Lambare, on the outskirts of Asuncion, June 23, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Ousted Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo branded the country's new government illegitimate on Sunday and called for a return to democratic rule following his sudden impeachment two days ago.

Lugo, a leftist former Roman Catholic bishop, said his removal from office was "a parliamentary coup against the will of the people" and said he would back any peaceful effort to restore democracy in the soy-exporting South American nation.

Congress voted overwhelmingly on Friday to remove Lugo from office on Friday, saying he had failed in his duty to maintain social order following a bloody land eviction.

Under the Paraguayan constitution, the impeached president was replaced by Vice President Federico Franco, a vocal critic of Lugo for much of his presidency.

As South American neighbours stepped up criticism of Lugo's rapid impeachment by an opposition-dominated Congress, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez halted oil shipments to Paraguay on Sunday and withdrew his ambassador from the country.

On Friday, Argentina withdrew its ambassador in protest at what it said was a "coup" against Lugo and Brazil recalled its top diplomat for consultations.

One-day-old president Franco said he would ask his impeached predecessor to help quell the regional tensions, but Lugo refused to help him.

"We support any kind of peaceful effort aimed at restoring institutional order that was interrupted by Parliament," Lugo told reporters, adding that he would not collaborate with a "fake" administration.

"This is a fake government. You can't collaborate with a government that doesn't have legitimacy," he said, adding that he would attend a summit of the regional trade bloc Mercosur later this week.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said on Saturday that Mercosur could take measures against Paraguay. In theory, that could include suspension from the group, which also brings together Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.

Lugo's impeachment was sparked by clashes that killed six police and 11 peasant farmers during a recent land eviction. He was one year away from completing his five-year term.

Latin America's more radical left-wing governments have led the protests with Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba, Nicaragua and Argentina saying they would not recognize the new government and vowing to lobby for sanctions against it.

Peru and Mexico also questioned the speed of the process to remove Lugo from office, although Mexico recognized the legality of the impeachment.

Paraguay is one of the poorest countries in South America and Lugo, 61, vowed to improve the quality of life of low-income families when his election ended six decades of rule by the Colorado party. But he struggled to push reforms, including land redistribution to poor peasant farmers, through Congress.

A cancer scare and several paternity scandals dating back to his time as a bishop added to his difficulties.

(Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Anthony Boadle)

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