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Paraguay president in paternity row

Monday April 13 2009

ASUNCION, Monday

Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo admitted today he is the father of a child conceived when he was still a Roman Catholic bishop, as a paternity suit threatened to weaken him politically.

“I assume all responsibilities having to do with the fact that I had a relationship with (the mother of the child), and I recognise paternity,” President Lugo, who took office in August, said in a surprise announcement on television.

Lawyers for the 26-year-old mother of the baby filed a paternity suit against President Lugo last week and a judge was proceeding with an investigation.

But she later told reporters she had not signed any complaint and had not authorised the lawyers to file a suit on her behalf.

In July last year, Pope Benedict granted an unprecedented waiver to allow Lugo to serve as president without violating church rules.

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Impoverished region

President Lugo, a 57-year-old leftist, won the presidency last April at the head of a coalition that ended more than 60 years of one-party rule in the poor South American country.

The child will turn two years old in early May, according to Paraguayan media reports.

Lugo had served as a bishop for 10 years in the impoverished region of San Pedro and shed his cassock in late 2006 to launch his political career despite church opposition.

The Vatican rejected his petition for layman’s status, suspending him from priestly duties, but saying he was still a bishop since his ordination was a lifelong sacrament. It changed its position after he won the election.

According to the lawsuit, President Lugo and the mother of the child met when he was bishop in San Pedro and stayed in the house of her godmother.

President Lugo was sworn in as President on August 15, 2008. He said that he would not accept the presidential salary because it “belongs to more humble people” and encouraged other politicians to refuse their salaries as well.

Since President Lugo is not married, he recently announced the designation of his elder sister, Mercedes Lugo, as First Lady of Paraguay.

On August 18, 2008, he named Margarita Mbywangi, a member of the Aché indigenous ethnic group, as minister of Indigenous Affairs, the first indigenous person to hold such a position in Paraguay.

The campaign

During the campaign, Lugo had suggested that he would switch diplomatic relations from the Republic of China on Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China, thereby depriving the ROC of its last diplomatic ally in South America.

However, after the inauguration, which had been attended by President Ma Ying-Jeou from Taiwan, Lugo stated that he had no plans to switch recognition. (Reuters)

Additional reporting by Wikipedia