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Guatemalan President Jorge Serrano resigns

GUATEMALA CITY -- President Jorge Serrano resigned from office Tuesday and will be replaced by Vice President Gustavo Espina Salguero, Defense Minister Gen. Jose Garcia Samayoa announced.

The announcement came hours after reports that Serrano -- whose disbanding of Congress and suspension of the constitution last week threw the country into political turmoil -- had been forced from power.

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The military high command met with union, business and political leaders to discuss legal ways to bring about a transition of power as thousands of Guatemalans took to the streets to celebrate the news of Serrano's resignation.

Garcia Samayoa said at a news conference that Vice President Gustavo Espina Salguero would assume presidential responsibilities until the Congress can be reinstated and elect an interim leader to complete Serrano's term, which ends in January, 1996.

Constitutional Court magistrate Jorge Mario Garcia Laguardia said the Congress had not accepted Espina's resignation and that he would take over temporarily from Serrano.

In an interview on the Mexican television news program ECO with anchorman Jacobo Zabludovsky, Serrano denied he had resigned, saying that his resignation would have to be accepted by the congress.

Serrano said he was quietly sitting at the Presidential Palace. 'I imagine they (congressional members) are going to come and negotiate my resignation with me,' Serrano said.

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Serrano said he was legally still president, although practically, he no longer held that post.

Alfonso Cabrera, General-Secretary of the Christian Democratic Party, said the Congress could meet as early as Wednesday to analyze ways of carrying out a purge of allegedly corrupt elements, a move demanded by business leaders, human rights watchdogs and the Roman Catholic church.

The Congress would also form a commission to proposecandidates to replace Serrano.

'I believe the crisis has overtaken the capacity of the political parties and we have to give (non-political) groups an important role' in the commission, Cabrera said, adding that candidates would not include leaders of political parties.

Electoral Tribunal President Arturo Herbruger -- who had rejected Serrano's calls for new congressional elections and a national referendum while the constitution was suspended -- had also been mentioned as a possible replacement for Serrano.

Garcia Samayoa called on human rights ombudsman Ramiro de Leon, 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu and business, political and union leaders to 'defend the institutional system as a national commitment to peace.'

While thousands celebrated Serrano's downfall, others were critical of the decision taken by the military and the Constitutional Court.

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Menchu, who was invited into the National Palace but found that the meeting was being controlled by the military and the Constitutional Court, renewed her call for civil disobedience.

'What we want is a government that attends to and respects the rights of the civilian sectors. We don't want the militarization of society or corruption to continue,' Menchu said.

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