Waving his arms in outrage and shouting that he is innocent, Alberto Fujimori went on trial Monday on charges of using a death squad to kill leftist guerrillas and collaborators.
It is the first time in Peru's history that a former president faces a trial for crimes committed during his administration — and one of the few cases of a Latin American leader being tried after leaving office. The case is stirring mixed emotions in a country where many still admire Fujimori for defeating a bloody insurgency.
Fujimori faces charges he authorized the 1992 death-squad slayings of nine students and a professor at La Cantuta University, and the 1991 killings of 15 people in a tenement in Lima's Barrios Altos neighborhood. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison.
He also is charged with ordering the kidnapping of a prominent journalist and a businessman, who were interrogated by army intelligence agents and released. Fujimori, 69, denies any involvement.
The former Peruvian leader strode into court exactly on time Monday, with the same air of authority he displayed as president.
Wearing a pinstriped suit, Fujimori took his seat at a small table with a microphone and immediately started taking notes as the prosecution and defense began their arguments.
As the morning session drew to a close, Fujimori, who had shown no emotion until that point, asked permission to speak. Standing and waving his arms in outrage, he said he had received a nation on the edge of anarchy when he took office.
'I am innocent'
"I received a country ... almost in collapse, exhausted by hyperinflation, international financial isolation and widespread terrorism," he said, his voice cracking with emotion.
"My government rescued the human rights of 25 million Peruvians with no exceptions. If any detestable acts were committed, I condemn them, but they were not done on my orders. I reject the charges totally. I am innocent and do not accept the prosecutor's accusation," he shouted angrily as the chief justice called him to order.
Chief Justice Cesar San Martin later suspended the trial until Wednesday morning after Fujimori underwent a medical exam and was found to be suffering from high blood pressure, a headache and a sore throat.
Three of Fujimori's four children attended _ congresswoman Keiko, daughter Sachi and son Kenji _ and about 60 supporters gathered to chant slogans at two entrances to the police base on the eastern outskirts of Lima, where Fujimori also is being held.
Defense attorney Cesar Nakazaki said he would call witnesses from the armed forces and anti-terrorism police to rebut the prosecution's claim that Fujimori authorized a clandestine dirty war against the Maoist Shining Path guerrillas.
But he said the army may have decided, without Fujimori's consent, to use a "dirty war ... as a strategy against terrorism in a meeting at army headquarters in June 1991."
Court battles ensue
In response, prosecutor Jose Pelaez argued that Fujimori had placed his closest adviser, intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos, in charge of the armed forces and was informed of their actions.
Nakazaki asked the court to reject a request for civil damages of $33 million for relatives of victims of the death squad. He also asked permission for Fujimori to have a laptop and complained he had not been given sufficient time to prepare the defense.
In later trials, judges will weigh whether Fujimori illegally used $15 million in state money to entice Montesinos to quit, and authorized bribes for congressmen, illegal phone taps and the use of state money to buy a TV station for political propaganda.
A separate court will determine whether Fujimori ordered an illegal search of the apartment of Montesinos' estranged wife.
Elected as a political outsider in 1990, Fujimori initially received tremendous support for his crackdown on insurgents and his economic reforms, which ended hyperinflation and spurred record foreign investment.
But his government became increasingly authoritarian, intimidating news media, human rights groups and political parties.
In November 2000 he fled into exile in Japan, his ancestral homeland, as his government collapsed in a corruption scandal involving Montesinos. Montesinos himself faces dozens of charges and already is serving various sentences, including one for 20 years.
In 2005, Fujimori flew to Chile in expectation he would be extradited to Peru on minor charges, but charges approved by Chile's Supreme Court included accusations of human rights violations.