Argentina's Menem freed

Friday, November 23, 2001

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Former President Carlos Menem, savoring his newfound freedom after more than five months of house arrest, said Thursday he plans to run again for the presidency in 2003.

Claiming he was the only person capable of rescuing Argentina from its economic crisis, the flamboyant 71-year-old, two-time former president promised to travel from "town to town and city to city" to regain the presidency.

"If there is a solution for Argentina's crisis it passes through the Peronist Party and, more modestly, through me," he said.

Menem spoke in a nationally televised news conference in his native northwestern province of La Rioja, where he flew hours after the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that prosecutors failed to prove he led a conspiracy to smuggle weapons to Croatia and Ecuador while in office in the 1990s.

Even though the election is still two years away, he said he would move to rebuild his power base and reassert his leadership as the official chief of the opposition Peronist party, the country's largest.

His ex-beauty queen wife at his side, Menem blamed President Fernando De la Rua for leading Argentina into a deep crisis. South America's second-largest economy now teeters on the brink of a possible default on $132 billion in debt.

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