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Friday, September 01, 2006

Peru nationalist Humala charged with murder

LIMA, Peru, Sept 1 (Reuters) - The runner-up in Peru's 2006 presidential election and the nation's de facto opposition leader has been charged with murder in connection with his role in fighting Maoist rebels and drug traffickers in the 1990s.

Ollanta Humala, who lost to President Alan Garcia but whose movement holds the largest number of seats in Congress, cannot leave the country and must post bail of 20,000 soles ($6,170), Judge Miluska Cano said in a ruling late on Thursday.

No date has been set for his trial.

Humala, a 44-year-old ex-army officer who remains immensely popular in Peru's poor southern Andes, is accused of conducting kidnaps and murders while fighting leftist insurgents and cocaine traffickers at a jungle army base in 1992.

Humala on Friday denied any wrongdoing and said the charges were aimed at preventing his nationalist movement from winning mayoral posts in November's regional elections.

"I took part in a war to uphold the rule of law, I played the role of judge, priest and brother to many, but I never abused anyone's rights," Humala told reporters.

"This is clearly a political persecution by Garcia's government to destroy the opposition," he added, flanked by his wife, Nadine.

His lawyer, Carlos Escobar, called the judge's ruling "absurd."

The charges relate to when Humala was a captain at a jungle military base in the coca-growing department of San Martin in northern Peru, then a front line in the government's fight against the Maoist Shining Path guerrilla group and drug traffickers.

Escobar said Humala's enduring popularity in the area was a testament to his innocence. Official results from the June runoff against Garcia show Humala won 81 percent of the votes in the Nuevo Progreso district within San Martin department.

Humala, who led a failed military rebellion against former President Alberto Fujimori in 2000, played up his military background at rallies, even as the accusations circulated.

He has promised to lead a fierce opposition against Garcia but so far has had little success in influencing policy or denting the president's high popularity ratings during Garcia's honeymoon period.
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