ASUNCION (Reuters) - Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo vowed on Thursday to face impeachment proceedings launched by his congressional rivals over a land eviction in which 17 people died last week and said he would not resign.
Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop elected four years ago on pledges to champion the needs of the poor, has struggled to carry out his reformist agenda due to the opposition’s grip on Congress.
He has faced intense pressure over last week’s bloodshed, which took place after police were ambushed by armed peasant farmers when they went to enforce an eviction order on a farm in the northeast of the country.
In a swift vote on Thursday, the lower house approved his impeachment with 66 votes in favour and 1 against. Three lawmakers were absent.
It will now pass to the Senate, which is also controlled by Lugo’s opponents, making Lugo’s impeachment look likely. It was not immediately clear when that might happen.
Lugo said in a broadcast on national television that he would not step down.
“This president announces that he is not going to present his resignation and that he will fully respect the constitution and the law to face the impeachment trial and its full consequences,” he said.
“There is no valid cause - neither legal nor political - to make me resign,” he added.
Under Paraguay’s constitution, an impeached president is replaced by the vice president who completes his original term. The next presidential election is in 2013.
Eight police officers and nine peasant farmers were killed in armed clashes during last Friday’s land eviction, marking one of the worst such incidents in Ecuador for two decades.
Lugo said on Wednesday that he would establish a committee to investigate the bloodshed, but this pledge failed to ease intense political pressure over the police’s handling of the operation.
Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Jackie Frank