Verdict due in murder trial of Peru’s Fujimori
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With BC-LT--Peru-Fujimori Chronology
AP Photo LIM104, LIM103, KNP102, KNP103, KNP104, LIM102
By FRANK BAJAK
Associated Press Writer
LIMA, Peru (AP) — Former President Alberto Fujimori says he did not authorize or cover up kidnappings and killings by a military hit squad.
A majority of Peruvians don’t believe him, but it will be a three-judge court that renders the final verdict Tuesday following a 15-month televised trial.
On the eve of the long-awaited ruling on kidnapping and murder charges against Fujimori, both supporters and detractors of the 70-year-old ex-leader gathered in the capital waving signs and balloons and shouting slogans.
Among them were relatives of the 25 people slain by a military death squad Fujimori is accused of authorizing. The family members held a candlelight vigil outside the Palace of Justice, black-and-white laminated photographs of lost loved ones hanging around their necks.
"My life is like a puzzle with the pieces lost," said Rosa Rojas, 43, her voice cracking.
Rojas’ husband, Manuel Rios, and 8-year-old son, Javier, were among 15 people killed by a military hit squad with silencer-equipped machine guns during a raid on a barbecue in 1991.
The squad, known as the Colina group, had erred: The alleged Shining Path rebel sympathizers they were seeking were on a different floor of the same building in the Barrios Altos district.
Seven months later, in July 1992, the Colina group sent a message to rebels responsible for almost daily Lima car bombings by "disappearing" nine students and a leftist professor at La Cantuta university.
Although many blame Fujimori for authorizing the kidnappings and killings, he remains remarkably popular for reviving a crippled economy and crushing the fanatical Shining Path during his 1990-2000 rule.
A November poll found two-thirds of Peruvians approved of his leadership, even though it ended in disgrace when videotapes showed his intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, bribing lawmakers and businessmen. Fujimori, the son of Japanese immigrants, fled to Japan, then attempted a return five years later via Chile, which extradited him.
In his final appeal Friday, Fujimori cast himself as a victim of political persecution, saying the charges against him reflect a double standard.
Why isn’t current President Alan Garcia also being prosecuted, he asked. It was from Garcia, who preceded him in office, that Fujimori inherited the Shining Path war, which would claim 70,000 lives.
Garcia denies responsibility for any human rights abuses during his 1985-90 administration — and has the power to pardon Fujimori, who faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Human rights advocates flocked to Lima anticipating a historic verdict.
Maria McFarland of Human Rights Watch-Americas said the case is important because "institutions of justice that Fujimori himself trampled on and controlled for so many years" were now judging him.
That’s something Chile never managed with dictator Augusto Pinochet, who avoided trial for health reasons until his death at 91.
Fujimori also is charged with ordering brief abductions of a businessman and of a journalist who criticized his 1992 shutdown of Congress and the courts.
The former president has already been sentenced to six years in prison for abuse of power and still faces two corruption trials on charges including bribing lawmakers and paying off a TV station. He claims he is innocent of all charges.
Most Peruvians beg to differ.
A poll released Monday showed that 64 percent believe he is guilty in the human rights case while 72 percent think he is guilty of corruption. The survey of 462 Lima residents by Catholic University last month has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points, the same as the November poll on his popularity.
Associated Press writers Carla Salazar and Andrew Whalen contributed to this report.