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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 June, 2003, 01:55 GMT 02:55 UK
Guatemala coup leader defies ban
By Nick Miles
BBC Central America correspondent

The leader of Guatemala's Congress and former military ruler, General Jose Efrain Rios Montt, has begun campaigning for the country's presidency, defying a ruling banning him from standing.

Jose Efrain Rios Montt
Rios Montt has been blocked twice before
On Friday the Guatemalan electoral registrar said the constitution banned the candidatures of anyone who had previously come to power by undemocratic means.

Mr Rios Montt took power in a coup in 1982, before being forced from power 18 months later.

Guatemala will go to the polls in November.

Opening shot

Despite the apparent setback for his presidential hopes, Mr Rios Montt gave a campaign speech in the city of Totonicapan in the west of the country.

After the speech he was contacted by the head of the Citizens' Registry, Miguel Solis, who made Friday's ruling, warning him once again that his campaign was unlawful.

Mr Rios Montt is likely to appeal against that decision all the way up to the country's constitutional court.

. "Next week we will file the proper appeals," he said, according to press reports on Saturday.

Guatemala's Constitutional Court has ruled against him on the same issue twice, in 1990 and 1995.

But political commentators in Guatemala say that the current make-up of the country's highest court means that this time it is likely to look more favourably on Mr Rios Montt's presidential bid.

Bloody rule

Whether or not he should stand is a deeply controversial issue amongst large sections of Guatemalan society.

During his time in power he undertook a bloody campaign against left-wing guerrillas.

Thousands of people were killed, many in massacres carried out by the military and their civilian militias.

Human rights groups are trying to bring a genocide case against Mr Rios Montt for his alleged role in the killings.

Country profile: Guatemala
23 May 03  |  Country profiles
Guatemala coup leader to stand
25 May 03  |  Americas

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