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Galtieri's fatal mistake

By
JOHN REICHERTZ

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- The fall of President Leopoldo Galtieri as army commander Thursday was caused more by his refusal to admit defeat than Britain's victory in the Falklands war, political and military sources said.

The end of Galtieri's hold on the army command, the most influential post of the military government, was the second major crisis in less than six months in the military government.

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Politicians said the crisis was another indication the 6-year-old military regime has run out of steam and should prepare for a quick transfer of power to civilians.

On Friday, Gen. Cristino Nicolaides, a conservative, right-wing officer who had been close to Galtieri, will assume command of the army, but will not become Argentina's president.

Government sources said it was almost certain Galtieri would also be replaced as president. For the first time since the junta took power in 1976, however, it appeared that the president would not be an army commander.

'The fact that the president might not be army commander could severely weaken the office,' said an observer in the business community.

Galtieri, 56, in his just over six-months as president led the nation into its only war in the 20th century. Argentina lost, leaving him weakened.

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But political and military sources said thereal reason for the end of Galtieri's reign were errors committed after Argentina's surrender.

The army commander, against the will of the top generals in the army, wanted to continue the war against Britain to recover the islands, despite the resounding defeat of the troops that had been stationed on the islands.

The tall, silver-haired general, one day after the surrender, on his own called for a rally in front of the government house that led to severe anti-government rioting.

Political and military sources said the rally, at which Galtieri was to have spoken, was 'ill-advised.'

A speech to the nation later that night, in which he warned that those who did not go along with his plans would be considered 'traitors,' was 'insulting' to Argentines, the sources said.

Carlos Contin, president of the middle-of-the-road Radical Civic Union, said, 'I hope this serves to accelerate the nation's return to democratic institutions. Now, more than ever, the national constitution should be put above all other interests.'

Former vice president Vicente Solano Lima, a member of the Popular Conservative party, called for elections.

'What the country needs now is a provisional government that doesn't last longer than 90 days -- I think that's enough -- and immediately have it call elections so we can get out of this mess,' Solano Lima, who held office in 1973, said.

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The military junta, once Nicolaides becomes army commander, will meet to decide on the question of the future president.

Nicolaides will form the junta with Air Force Commander Basilio Lami Dozo and Navy Commander Jorge Anaya, both of whom so far have survived the Falklands defeat.

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