Fujimori voters nostalgic for Peru's jailed ex-leader

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Lima (AFP) - He is in jail for massacres and embezzling millions in public funds, but many Peruvians still love their ex-president Alberto Fujimori.

They thank him for crushing the Shining Path guerrillas, overseeing an economic boom and handing out gifts to the poor during his 1990-2000 rule.

Delighted that his daughter Keiko may now follow in his footsteps as president after elections on Sunday, thousands turned out in a working-class suburb of Lima to cheer her at her closing campaign rally.

"When the country was destroyed, full of terrorism, of the Shining Path, in total chaos, Alberto Fujimori recovered the country," said supporter Yoni Carranca, 49.

"Now his daughter has to transform it even more."

The Shining Path carried out attacks and kidnappings in its quest to set up a communist state.

Fujimori and his secret service chief Vladimiro Montesinos went after it with death squads that were accused of killing innocents as well as guerrillas.

The Supreme Court convicted Fujimori in 2009 of "crimes against humanity" under Peruvian law. He was held responsible for the death squads. The court also convicted him of corruption.

The courts are still working through a long list of charges against Montesinos.

- 'Brave woman' -

Keiko admits that her father made "mistakes" and has promised to safeguard human rights and to support victims of abuses, such as women who were forcibly sterilized under his rule.

"Fujimoristas" say their hero was led astray by his adviser.

"He gave a lot of power to Vladimiro Montesinos. That is why Fujimori fell," said 58-year-old Lima taxi driver Felizardo Mogollon.

"If he had continued as president the country would be in a better state now."

Under outgoing President Ollanta Humala, Peru's economy has grown faster than most of its neighbors, but not as strongly as during the Fujimori boom. Keiko says many poor families have been left behind.

Hearing her promises, her supporters say they do not care that, for her opponents, her family name is a mark of shame.

"No one here is bothered about that. You know why? Because that brave woman Keiko knows what we suffer," said Maria Estela Farro, 49, at a Keiko rally in eastern Lima.

"Those who attack her are people who have what they need. They don't care about the poor."

Keiko is topping the polls ahead of Sunday's election with about a third of the vote, according to surveys by three pollsters released Friday.

That will send her into a runoff vote against one of her opponents vying for second place: former Wall Street banker Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, 77, or congresswoman Veronika Mendoza, 35.

Opponents tried to have her excluded from the race for alleged vote-buying, but the electoral board on Friday rejected the latest appeal against her candidacy, confirming she can run.

- Law and order -

Like her father, Keiko has wooed villagers in this mountainous South American land and played a tough line on security.

In her slick closing speech, Keiko's broad smile swiftly gave way to a menacing frown as she tackled law and order.

She drew deafening cheers as she vowed to build new prisons high in the mountains to lock up violent criminals.

For locals in Lima's dangerous suburbs, electing a president is about more than just the memory of Fujimori senior's crimes.

"Yes, that matters, but he did good things too. He gave out food to the poor," said Nataly Gonzalo, 25, at the rally with her three-year-old son. She earns about $250 a month working as a hairdresser.

"She is firm. I hope she gets rid of all the criminals. They kill, fight and rob," Gonzalo said. "And I hope she raises the minimum wage."

Fujimori senior was not among the faces on the election posters lining the roads nearby. But his name was in the mind of Keiko's supporters.

"It is not fair that he is in jail. There was no proof against him over the massacres," said Jose Luis Venancio, a 39-year-old retailer.

"He was the best president Peru has had."

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