Peru president eyes Cabinet changes after Fujimori pardon: minister

LIMA (Reuters) - Peru’s center-right President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski may reshuffle his Cabinet in coming days, after triggering an outcry by pardoning former authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori, the prime minister announced on Wednesday.

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Mercedes Araoz said Kuczynski, a 79-year-old former Wall Street investor, had asked her to remain at the helm of the Cabinet and to look for ways to strengthen it.

“The president asked me to carry out a comprehensive review and we’ll see what happens in coming days,” Araoz said at a press conference, her first public appearance since the pardon on Christmas Eve.

In the past two weeks, the political situation in top metals exporter Peru has turned suddenly volatile, after the opposition-ruled Congress sought to oust Kuczynski in the wake of a graft scandal.

Kuczynski was saved from the vote by Fujimori loyalists. Two days later, he pardoned the ailing Fujimori, sparking violent protests and political resignations as opponents alleged the pardon was payback for keeping Kuczynski in office.

It was not clear which ministers may be vulnerable in any reshuffle, but a shake-up could herald a new rightward turn for Kuczynski’s government, as Kuczynski’s former left-leaning supporters denounced him as a “traitor” for pardoning Fujimori.

There was no plan to replace Finance Minister Claudia Cooper, a government source said.

Fujimori was in stable condition at a hospital in Lima, where he was rushed from prison on Saturday to undergo treatment for life-threatening blood pressure and heart problems, according to his doctor.

Araoz said she respected Kuczynski’s decision to pardon Fujimori, and stressed he had been evaluating it long before the vote to oust him in Congress.

“Neither I nor any member of my Cabinet nor the ruling party Peruvians for Change took part in any negotiation to trade a humanitarian pardon (for votes)”, said Araoz.

Fujimori had served 12 years of a 25-year-sentence for graft and human rights crimes in his 1990-2000 rightwing government. Kuczynski’s decision cleared him of convictions and shields him from being tried in pending judicial processes.

Fujimori is reviled by many who consider him a corrupt dictator, but admired by others who credit him with saving Peru from an economic crisis and leftist insurgency.

Earlier on Wednesday, culture minister Salvador del Solar announced his resignation on Twitter - the first Cabinet member to quit since the pardon was granted on Sunday.

A presidential adviser, at least three justice ministry officials and two state media personalities have also stepped down. Three ruling party lawmakers announced their resignations earlier this week, as the pardon triggered two days of unrest.

Fujimori’s opponents planned a new protest on Thursday.

Reporting By Mitra Taj and Teresa Cespedes; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien