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Last Updated: Friday, 15 August, 2003, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
Paraguay leader faces travel ban
Luis Gonzalez Macchi
Gonzalez Macchi has been accused of embezzlement
A judge in Paraguay has barred the country's outgoing president from leaving the country after he hands over power to his successor on Friday.

Luis Gonzalez Macchi has been accused of involvement in the embezzlement of $16m from two banks, but as chief executive is immune from prosecution until Friday.

Nicanor Duarte has been sworn in as the country's 47th president, pledging to tackle the country's economic problems and corruption.

At a ceremony attended by Latin American leaders, including Cuba's Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Mr Duarte, 46, took up the red, white and blue presidential sash.

He extends the rule of the Colorado Party which has run the country since 1947.

"I'm well aware that the powers that be will try to put the brakes on my fight against corruption," he said on Thursday, according to Associated Press news agency reports.

Failed impeachment

Meanwhile, local papers speculated that the judicial ruling will disrupt Mr Gonzalez Macchi's plans to fly to Miami with his wife the day after he leaves office. He insists he has done nothing wrong.

Attempts to impeach Mr Gonzalez Macchi earlier this year failed because of his party's majority in Congress, even though not a single deputy spoke in his favour.

Paraguay's new president Nicanor Duarte
Duarte has promised to fight corruption
He was first accused of involvement in the siphoning off of about $16m from two private banks - Banco Union and Banco Oriental - undergoing public liquidation in April 2002.

Under Paraguayan law, outgoing presidents automatically become "senators for life" - a title that guarantees immunity from prosecution.

But the constitution states this only applies to elected presidents. Mr Gonzalez Macchi was appointed president after his predecessor resigned amid another political crisis.

Despite being from the same dominant Colorado Party, correspondents say Mr Duarte seems likely to use this loophole to press ahead with investigations into Mr Gonzalez Macchi.

'Worse off than ever'

Polls show more than half of Paraguayans believe their new president will deliver on his word to stamp out corruption.

The country is known as a regional hub of a trade in counterfeit and contraband goods, and the leader of the Senate once admitted that as much as 70% of the government's income disappeared into the pockets of public officials.

"We're worse off today than we were years ago," said Maria De Carmen, 48, as she sold bread cakes on an Asuncion street corner.

"And there's not enough work. I just hope this new president brings a change for the better," she told AP.

Country profile: Paraguay
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