January 6, 2018 / 9:57 PM / 13 days ago

Peru's Fujimori calls for unity after controversial pardon

(This version of the story corrects the time reference on when he was pardoned in the first paragraph)

By Mitra Taj

LIMA (Reuters) - Former president Alberto Fujimori called for Peruvians on Saturday to set aside their “grudges” in order to unite against violence and crime, appealing to his right-wing political base less than two weeks after being freed from prison by a presidential pardon.

In his first comments since being released from a hospital for blood pressure and heart problems on Thursday, Fujimori took to Twitter to reflect on the new chapter in his life following a decade in prison serving a 25-year prison sentence for graft and human rights crimes.

“I‘m constantly invaded by dreams and want to share them,” Fujimori said, describing a nation free of “grudges” in a jab at his opponents.

“We’ll be in a country in which security is regained and violence eliminated. We can only achieve these goals by setting aside special interests and opportunism. UNITED WE CAN DO IT!”

Fujimori’s remarks were the first sign that he would play a more active role in Peruvian politics, potentially supporting President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski following a series of political resignations that have shaken his center-right government.

Kuczynski, 79, a former Wall Street banker, has struggled to govern alongside a Congress ruled by Fujimori’s supporters, and pardoned Fujimori on Christmas Eve, three days after Fujimori asked his loyalists to help Kuczynski survive an impeachment bid in Congress. The decision ignited protests and a backlash against the political establishment.

Critics of the pardon have slammed it as a blow to the global fight against impunity and efforts to heal the wounds of a conflict between leftist insurgents and Fujimori’s 1990-2000 government that killed an estimated 69,000 people.

But many in Peru admire Fujimori as a proponent for the poor and say he was unfairly punished for his government’s heavy-handed counterinsurgency campaign against rebels.

While Peru has enjoyed nearly two decades of peace and commodities-fueled growth since Fujimori’s authoritarian government ended in a graft scandal, street crime has been a top concern for voters throughout the presidencies of Fujimori’s four successors, including Kuczynski.

“Some might think that Kuczynski was tweeting from the wrong account,” Peruvian political analyst Diethell Colombus said on Twitter, referring to Fujimori’s post. “It’s clear that who was once a politician will always be a politician.”

Kuczynski has yet to reveal a new Cabinet since promising an announcement “very soon” more than a week ago.

Representatives for Kuczynski and Fujimori have denied that the pardon was part of a political pact, defending it on medical and humanitarian grounds.

Reporting By Mitra Taj; Editing by Bill Trott

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