Victims of Peru's Fujimori rail against ex-president's pardon

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Lima (AFP)

Families of victims of former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori prepared Wednesday to intensify protests against a pardon given to the ex-leader, who was serving 25 years for murder and other human rights abuses.

They were to hold a fresh march on Thursday denouncing both the pardon and current President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who decreed Fujimori's release on Sunday, three days after narrowly surviving impeachment on graft allegations thanks to political support from Fujimori's son Kenji.

"This is the second times I've put my trust in a president who's failed me," one relative, Rosa Rojas, told AFP.

Rojas lost her husband and eight-year-old son in a 1991 massacre in Barrios Altos, a district in the capital, by a death squad acting under Fujimori's orders.

Thursday's protest will be the latest by various political and victims groups triggered by the pardon. They are denouncing the crimes committed during Fujimori's brutal 1990-2000 reign and say the ex-president should not be shown leniency.

One rights group said it has asked the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to examine a challenge to the legality of the pardon. An official at the court told AFP it was closed for vacations until January 8 and could not consider accepting any request until then.

"We believe this is an illegal pardon because it doesn't meet the conditions that Peruvian norms require for giving a pardon," said Gisela Ortiz. She is the sister of one of nine university students who were kidnapped and murdered along with their professor by a death squad in a rural area near the capital in 1992.

- 'Forgive me' -

Fujimori, 79, has been in a Lima clinic since Saturday. He was transferred from his prison cell after suffering what his doctor said was low blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat.

The former leader admitted in a video recorded from his bedside that he had "let down" Peruvian citizens and "I ask them to forgive me with all my heart."

He was sentenced in 2007 to 25 years in prison for the death-squad murders, as well as the kidnappings of a journalist and a businessman in 1992. Lesser convictions for corruption were subsumed into his maximum 25-year term.

Fujimori earned respect from many Peruvians for his ruthless and unflinching campaign to defeat leftist Shining Path guerrillas during his time in office.

But his brutal, illegal methods were also condemned by other parts of Peruvian society and foreign observers.

A UN human rights official and international rights groups warned his pardon would send the wrong signal about impunity in Latin America, a region still dealing with scars left from a number of dictators and autocrats in past decades.

Kuczynski said his pardon was given on humanitarian grounds, based on Fujimori's ill health. Seven other prisoners were also pardoned on the same grounds.

A lawyer for the jailed Shining Path leader, Abimael Guzman, now 83, urged a pardon for his client, too, stressing that he was also ailing while serving life in prison on terror charges.

- Suspicious timing -

The timing of the pardon for Fujimori was seen by many in Peru as suspicious.

Last week, Kuczynski barely survived an impeachment motion in the opposition-controlled Congress. It was only because Kenji Fujimori had convinced some members of the Fuerza Popular party led by his sister Keiko not to support the impeachment that Kuczynski was not ousted.

Kuczynski was accused by lawmakers of lying to hide his paid links to Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction firm that has admitted to paying millions of dollars in bribes across Latin America to secure inflated public works contracts.