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The BBC's Bill Hayton
"Some 2,000 public sector workers marched through the streets"
 real 56k

Thursday, 16 November, 2000, 08:04 GMT
Fujimori flies home after asylum rumours
Protesters clash with police in Lima
Pressure is mounting on Fujimori to resign
Peru's embattled President Alberto Fujimori is flying home early from a foreign summit to quash rumours he is seeking political asylum abroad.

Senior government ministers say the asylum claims are untrue, and Mr Fujimori is returning to deny them personally.

He is leaving, via Tokyo - he has brought his return forward to deny all this in person

Agriculture Minister Jose Chlimper
As the president's political crisis deepens, parliament will vote on Thursday to elect a new speaker, a move which could give the opposition control of parliament for the first time since 1992.

There has been more violence in the capital, Lima, as protesters demanding the immediate resignation of Mr Fujimori clashed with riot police.

The ongoing crisis erupted over a bribery scandal involving the president's then spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos: he fled to Panama, but returned and vanished after failing to be granted asylum.

The claims that the president himself was now seeking asylum came from Jose Barba Caballero, a leader of the small opposition party Avancemos party.

He said Mr Fujimori had applied for refuge in Malaysia after arriving at the summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Brunei.

President Fujimori
President Fujimori has been unable to shake off the crisis
The claims were denied by Malaysia.

"As far as we are concerned, we are not aware of any such move," said Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar at a news conference in Malaysia.

Mr Fujimori's delegation in Brunei also rejected the suggestion.

"That isn't true. He is leaving today for Peru. Everything is normal," said a member of the Peruvian team in Brunei.

At home, Peru's Agriculture Minister Jose Chlimper told Peruvian radio that the president had decided to return early in order to quash the rumours.

Vladimiro Montesinos
Montesinos is thought to be hiding somewhere in Peru
"I have just spoken again with the (president's personal military) attache, and he confirmed to me that the president says there has been no asylum.

"In the next five hours he is leaving, via Tokyo. He has brought his return forward to deny all this in person."

However, five hours later, correspondents noted that Mr Fujimori was still at the summit.

His ability to govern has been increasingly questioned since the bribery scandal involving Mr Montesinos began two months ago.

Key allies

To defuse the political turmoil, Mr Fujimori said he would step down next July, four years early, and set a date for elections in April.

But the opposition has been putting pressure on him to resign immediately, and earlier this week, succeeded in dismissing one of his key allies in congress, speaker Martha Hildebrandt.

The parties will seek to replace her on Thursday with their own candidate, Valentin Paniagua.

Torture allegations

Mr Fujimori's decision to return to Peru coincides with the discovery of six underground cells used for the secret detention and interrogation of prisoners in the basement of the National Intelligence Service, which Mr Montesinos ran until his downfall.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Federico Salas said he had received information that the sound-proofed cells had been used to hold a former Shining Path rebel leader, Oscar Ramirez, and other prisoners.

Correspondents say the discovery will lend credibility to claims that many of the Peruvian Government's political opponents were tortured in underground chambers.

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See also:

15 Nov 00 | Americas
Secret dungeons found in Peru
14 Nov 00 | Americas
Pressure piled on Fujimori
26 Oct 00 | Americas
Hunt for Peru spy chief
27 Sep 00 | Americas
Peru halts spy investigation
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