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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 July, 2003, 21:11 GMT 22:11 UK
General to run in Guatemala
General Rios Montt signs his candidate papers
The general is now wooing people who suffered under his rule
A former Guatemalan military ruler has registered to stand in the country's presidential election this November.

Efrain Rios Montt, 77, briefly held power after a coup in 1982, at the height of the bloody civil war.

He registered his bid on Thursday, a day after the constitutional court overturned a supreme court ban on his candidacy.

Demonstrators had taken to the streets of the capital, Guatemala City, in support of the retired general whose campaign portrays him as an anti-establishment figure.

The supreme court had denied him a presidential bid on the basis of a constitutional ban on former coup leaders returning to power.

But General Rios Montt argued that the 1985 ban did not apply to him because it came into effect after he was ejected from office in 1983.

The general has never been formally charged with crimes but his 18 months in office saw some of the most ferocious fighting of the war against leftist rebels.

He was widely criticised abroad at the time for conducting a "scorched earth" policy, which wiped out entire towns suspected of harbouring rebels.

'Mayans' friend'

Last week, thousands of hooded supporters of the general violently demonstrated in the capital's financial district, demanding he be allowed to stand.

Guatemalans inspect remains of war victims exhumed  from a mass grave
About 200,000 people died in the 1960-1996 civil war
President Alfonso Portillo deployed soldiers on the streets to restore order.

The general was prevented from running in elections in 1990 and 1995 under the coup leader clause.

Opinion polls show him running a close third behind business-friendly presidential candidate Oscar Berger and leftist Alvaro Colom.

Diplomats, however, believe the polls do not take into account feeling in rural areas.

The general's campaign is directed against the Guatemalan establishment and designed to appeal to the country's indigenous communities, especially the Mayan Indians.

It advocates "regularising and legalising all the ancestral land that belongs to them".

However, the Mayans were among those who suffered most under his rule when thousands of villagers are believed to have been killed.

The US state department has said it will be difficult for Washington to have a normal relationship with Guatemala if General Rios Montt is elected.

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08 Jun 03  |  Americas
Guatemala coup leader to stand
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Country profile: Guatemala
11 Jul 03  |  Country profiles

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