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Suriname elects former coup leader
Parliament backs convicted drug smuggler Desi Bouterse as president.
Last Modified: 20 Jul 2010 12:59 GMT
 Desi Bouterse is one of the richest and most popular politicians in the South American country [Reuters]

Suriname has elected Desi Bouterse, a former coup leader and convicted drug trafficking, as its new president.

Bouterse, who won a parliamentary vote on Monday, seized power in the small South American republic, twice before through military takeovers.

He was convicted in the Netherlands of cocaine smuggling in 1999 and has been accused of human rights violations.

Thirty-six of Suriname's 50 members of parliament voted in favour of Bouterse on Monday, giving him the necessary two-thirds majority.

The vote followed an inconclusive one in May, when the new president's Mega Combination coalition won only 23 seats.

One of the country's richest and most popular politicians, Bouterse signed deals with several rival factions seeking cabinet posts in his new government ahead of the election.

Murder trial

The former military ruler is currently on trial for the murder of 15 political opponents in 1982.

When Al Jazeera spoke with Eddie Duncan, the brother of one of the victims, during parliamentary elections in May, he blamed Bouterse for the killing.

"[Bouterse] is a murderer. He thinks if he wins these elections, the court won't prosecute him"

Eddie Duncan, brother of slain politician

"[Bouterse] is a murderer. He thinks if he wins these elections, the court won't prosecute him," he said.

Bouterse rejects the claims, insisting that he is being persecuted by elites for defending the poor.

"Just look at Mandela. He fought for the poor and they locked him up for 27 years," he said.

Bouterse first seized control of Suriname in a coup in 1980, five years after it gained independence from the Netherlands.

He stepped down under international pressure in 1987, then briefly seized power again three years later.

In 1999, Bouterse was convicted in absentia by a Netherlands court for cocaine trafficking.

'Not welcome'

As president, he now enjoys diplomatic immunity from that sentence, but the Dutch, Suriname's biggest aid donors, have made it clear he is not welcome in the country.

"We cannot ignore that Bouterse has been sentenced in the Netherlands to 11 years imprisonment for drug trafficking," Maxime Verhagen, the Dutch foreign minister, said in a statement.

"He is only welcome in the Netherlands to serve his sentence."

A sparsely populated country on the continent's northeastern shoulder, Suriname won independence in 1975 and is now a gold and bauxite miner with a nascent oil industry.

Bouterse has said he hopes to strengthen ties with Brazil and China in government. The Asian giant is already deeply involved in logging and road building in the rainforest-covered country.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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