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Paraguayan leader apologises for paternity scandal

ASUNCION (Reuters) - Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop, offered a public apology on Friday, hoping to defuse a scandal over claims from three women that he fathered their children.

Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo talks during a media conference to mark Journalist Day in Asuncion April 24, 2009. REUTERS/Jorge Adorno

The appeal in a nationally televised news conference came nearly two weeks after Lugo admitted he is the father of an almost 2-year-old boy who was conceived before he left the Church.

Since then, two other women have also come forward with similar claims, deepening a scandal that has chipped away at his popularity in this heavily Roman Catholic country.

“I realise that I have let the Catholic Church down, the country and all Paraguayans who put their trust in me,” he said.

“I am human and therefore nothing human is foreign to me,” added Lugo, who is not married.

He refused to address the claims from the other two women, saying judicial proceedings were under way to determine if he was the father of their children, who are aged 6 and 1.

But Lugo insisted he would not resign over the scandal that has seen opposition leaders heavily criticise him and dominated national headlines for days.

Once known as the “bishop of the poor,” Lugo was elected a year ago as the leader of a centre-left coalition and took office in August, pledging land reform to help poor peasants in the landlocked South American nation that exports beef, soy, and electricity.

He won office in a historic election that ended more than 60 years of rule by the Colorado party, once one of the world’s longest-ruling parties.

Lugo resigned as bishop of the impoverished San Pedro province in 2005 but continued as an emeritus bishop until late 2006, when he said he was leaving the church for politics. But the Vatican did not return him to lay status until after he was elected in 2008.

Political analysts say the scandal is unlikely to permanently tarnish his administration in a country with a strong macho culture.

On Thursday, a judge ordered the boy recognized by Lugo to carry his last name. Media reports say the boy’s mother and the child have since moved into Lugo’s personal residence near the capital, Asuncion.

Additional reporting by Daniela Desantis; Editing by Doina Chiacu