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Congress Moving To Name President And Fill Power Vacuum

June 5, 1993

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ Congress was set the task of electing a new president today, after the vice president’s claim on the post was opposed by demonstrators in the streets, the Constitutional Court and, perhaps most importantly, the powerful military.

The court ruled late Friday that Vice President Gustavo Espina Salguero had been a ″co-participant″ in ousted President Jorge Serrano’s power grab. Serrano had dissolved the Supreme Court and congress, ruling by decree for eight days before the military toppled him Tuesday.

With Espina thus constitutionally disqualified, the court gave Congress 24 hours to find Serrano’s successor. Jose Lobo Dubon, president of Congress, called for the 116-seat legislature to convene before midday today to vote on nominations for the presidency.

Espina, apparently with military backing, had declared he was assuming the presidency on Wednesday, the day Serrano fled into exile. But Congress blocked his swearing-in.

The rebellious Congress was backed by thousands of demonstrators and Nobel peace prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, Guatemala’s most prominent human rights activist. Menchu had said Espina’s bid was ″a military coup with a civilian face.″

The National Consensus, a powerful coalition of business, political and labor leaders also opposed Espina, and said late Friday that the army had reacted ″positively″ to its proposal that Espina be kept from assuming the presidency.

But Defense Minister Jose Domingo Garcia Samayoa issued no immediate statement on whether he still supported Espina against a rising tide of opposition.

The military continues to have great influence after ruling for decades. When Serrano took office in 1991, he was the first elected civilian president to succeed another in more than 150 years of Guatemalan history.

It remained uncertain whether the legislature could assemble the 79 members, or necessary two-thirds vote, to choose a new interim president to serve out Serrano’s term, which ends in January 1996.

Jorge Carpio, secretary-general of the National Centralist Union Party, said his deputies would not turn up in Congress until it had made a presidential nomination from their group.

But Lobo Dubon, president of the Congress, said he hoped to capitalize on rising opposition to Espina to quickly secure consensus a new president.

Several names have reportedly been put forward for president, among them former Supreme Court President Edmundo Vasquez; Epaminondas Gonzalez Dubon, president of the Constitutional Court; and wealthy businessman Dionysio Gutierrez.

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