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Peru's president survives vote to oust him, says he'll seek reconciliation in the country

Peru's president survives vote to oust him, says he'll seek reconciliation in the country
Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, accompanied by his vice presidents, Martin Vizcarra and Mercedes Araoz, addresses the nation on Dec. 20, 2017. (Eduardo Cavero/Peruvian Presidency)

Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski maintained public silence Friday, a day after narrowly escaping an attempt by legislators to remove him from office in connection with corruption charges tied to a Brazilian construction company.

After more than 10 hours of debate, lawmakers late Thursday fell short of the two-thirds majority required to remove the president from office.

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The president had said on social media after the vote that he would push for "reconciliation and reconstruction of our country."

Kuczynski had gone before Congress to reject corruption charges related to business dealings with Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which is accused of bribing officials in several Latin American countries to secure contracts.

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Congressman Clayton Galvan said in a television interview Friday that several members of the opposition unexpectedly abstained from voting, apparently at the request of jailed former President Alberto Fujimori. Fujimori was convicted in 2009 on corruption and human rights abuse charges and is serving a 25-year prison term.

Fujimori, father of opposition leader and congresswoman Keiko Fujimori, appealed to legislative allies not to vote because he is hoping for a pardon from Kuczynski, Galvan said, and feared Kuczynski's removal from office would derail his chances.

Kuczynski stood to lose the presidency because a majority of seats are controlled by Keiko Fujimori, whom Kuczynski defeated in the 2016 presidential race, analysts said. Keiko Fujimori also faces accusations of having taken illegal contributions from Odebrecht.

Kuczynski's supporters said Keiko Fujimori, twice a losing candidate for president, was engineering the president's removal from office to distract attention from still undetermined sums her campaign allegedly received from Odebrecht in 2011.

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Legislators voted after a marathon debate on the corruption charges leveled against the president that relate to $787,000 in cash payments made by Odebrecht to one of his businesses.

Legislators accused Kuczynski this month of "moral incapacity," forcing the congressional vote this week. The charges were related to money his firm Westfield Capital received from Odebrecht while he was Cabinet minister under former President Alejandro Toledo.

Peru's political landscape has been torn apart by the Odebrecht scandal, known by its nickname "Car Wash." In addition to Kuczynski, three former presidents — Toledo, Ollanta Humala and Alan Garcia — have been tainted by the scandal.

Humala is in protective custody awaiting trial on corruption charges related to $3 million in alleged bribes, while Toledo is fighting extradition from the United States in connection with $10 million in illegal funds he is alleged to have accepted. Local news reports say that Garcia also is alleged to have accepted illegal Odebrecht cash.

Kuczynski maintained that he knew nothing about the Odebrecht payments to Westfield Capital at the time they were made and that Odebrecht received no preferential treatment. In a two-hour appearance before Congress on Thursday, he said he had specifically instructed his partner Gerardo Sepulveda to tell him nothing about the company's operations while he held the government post.

Nevertheless, the scandals have caused an uproar as evidenced by mass demonstrations last Saturday in Lima and a dozen other Peruvian cities by protesters demanding an end to corruption.

One of Kuczynski's two vice presidents, Mercedes Araoz, said Friday the president would work to regain Peruvians' confidence and would not engage in retribution.

Special correspondents Leon and Kraul reported from Lima,Peru, and Bogota, Colombia, respectively.

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