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Last Updated:  Friday, 7 March, 2003, 12:51 GMT
Guatemala's 'absent' president
Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo
Portillo is no stranger to controversy
Guatemala's populist President, Alfonso Portillo, seems to have been keeping a low profile lately.

On Thursday, he gave a news conference - his first public event in more than 20 days - but only after judges went to his home to "prove his physical presence".

"I'm alive as you can see," Mr Portillo joked when the judges turned up on Wednesday. "I've come from playing football."

Mr Portillo defended himself against opposition accusations that he had made himself absent as the country suffered a series of crises.

"The fact that a president does not appear in the media does not mean he is not carrying out his duties," he said.

Opposition demand

But Siglo Veintiuno newspaper reports that during Mr Portillo's "absence" nobody in government could account for his activities, prompting various rumours, including resignation, exile and illness.

What can I say? This inquiry is a joke
President Alfonso Portillo
During this period the country was hit by a major teachers' strike and a financial scandal allegedly involving a friend of the president.

And Mr Portillo is reported to have avoided most of the country's media organisations since mid-January.

The opposition requested that a court verify Mr Portillo's whereabouts and state of health.

'Joke'

The magistrates first stop on Wednesday morning was the presidential palace, where they were told that Mr Portillo was "carrying out duties related to his office", Judge Yolanda Perez said.

Map
When the judges went on to the president's residence at midday they were made to wait 20 minutes, only to be met by Mr Portillo dressed in sports clothes.

"Thank you for your concern," he said.

"What can I say? This inquiry is a joke... this country needs justice, a judge should be dedicated to justice."

The right-wing Mr Portillo - whose term ends in January 2004 - is no stranger to controversy.

During his 1999 election campaign he stunned the electorate by admitting he had killed two people in Mexico in 1982 before fleeing the country to escape trial.

But he turned the issue into a vote-winner by adopting the slogan "a man who can defend his own life can defend yours".




SEE ALSO:
Guatemala leader defies protesters
04 Aug 01 |  Americas
Country profile: Guatemala
16 Jan 03 |  Country profiles


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