Guatemala's top court has cleared the way for Efrain Rios Montt to run for president on 9 November, ending a legal dispute that prompted violent protests earlier in July.

 

Judges said the Constitutional Court ordered an electoral body to register Rios Montt as a candidate within 24 hours, despite a ruling last week from the Supreme Court suspending the former strongman's presidential bid.

 

"Now there is nothing that can stop his participation in the elections and it will be the Guatemalan people who decide the general's destiny on 9 November," Jorge Arevalo, a Rios Montt aide, said on Wednesday.

 

Blocked

   

Guatemala's courts had blocked him from running in 1990 and 1995, citing the country's 1985 constitution that bans ex-dictators from standing for president.

   

Rios Montt, notorious for a 1982-83 scorched-earth campaign against leftist rebels, argued that the ban does not apply to him because it was put in place after his time in power.

   

Political rivals had appealed against an earlier Constitutional Court ruling in favour of the retired general, prompting 3,000 Rios Montt supporters to riot in the capital last week.

   

A journalist covering the disturbances died of a heart attack while being chased by stick-wielding Rios Montt supporters.

 

"Now there is nothing that can stop his participation in the elections."

-Jorge Arevalo, a Rios Montt aide

Rios Montt, 77, promises to help the mostly Mayan Indian peasant population by taxing Guatemala's economic elite. He is running third in opinion polls but analysts say he could pick up support quickly.

   

He is accused of ordering massacres of thousands of villagers in a crackdown against leftist guerrillas during his time in office, one of the bloodiest periods in a 36-year civil war that cost 200,000 lives.

 

It was such a shameful period that in March 1999, US President Bill Clinton apologised for the dark and long-buried episode in American's foreign policy ... and its support for brutal right-wing governments in Guataemala.

 

Making an admission that many Guatemalan's thought they'd never hear, Clinton said: "For the United States, it is important I state clearly that support for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong and the United States must not repeat that mistake."

   

The front-runner is pro-business candidate Oscar Berger. If no one wins the first round of the elections with more than 50 percent of the vote, a second round will be held in December.