President Bush Friday pledged to work closely with Salvadoran President-elect Alfredo Cristiani, who was dogged by anti-death squad protestors throughout the first day of a six-day visit.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Bush, in a 45-minute meeting with Cristiani, expressed the hope of enhancing cooperation with El Salvador under Cristiani's leadership. He takes power June 1.But the White House made no comment on a new guerrilla proposal, which Cristiani earlier called a setback to the peace process.
"The president stated his view that Mr. Cristiani should be given the chance to prove his dedication to democracy, peace and human rights," Fitzwater said. "Mr Cristiani has already proven his ability to run a fair campaign, which inspires our confidence about the future."
The guerrillas, calling Cristiani's government illegitimate, said Thursday he should declare himself the head of a transition government and stage new elections six months after a cease-fire is entered into force.
But Cristiani, in a National Press Club news conference, said the guerrillas were playing a political game, seeking to get a share of power without having to go to the Salvadoran people in elections.
"It's starting to show that the FMLN (Farabundo Marti Liberation Front) does not really want peace," he said.
Security guards hustled a woman out of the news conference when she began to shout, "ARENA equals death squads." Leaders of ARENA, Cristiani's right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance, have been accused of past links to death squads.
Scores of other protestors demonstrated outside the National Press Club building and later at the White House, throwing dummy bodies in the street, shouting "Assassin" and charging through police lines.
It was Cristiani's first visit to the United States since winning the March 19 election, defeating the candidate of President Jose Napoleon Duarte's Christian Democrat government.
Washington, pumping more than $1 million per day of aid into the small Central American country, had supported Duarte as a moderate alternative to the extremes of the right and the left.
But Washington has said that before taking any action to limit aid to El Salvador it would give Cristiani a chance to show his support for democracy and human rights.
Cristiani, who over his six-day visit has scheduled talks with labor leaders, top government officials and leading members of Congress, also was making a wide range of television and public appearances.
On the question of death squads, he said he had never seen any credible evidence that the founder of the ARENA party, former Maj. Roberto D'Aubuisson, had any ties to the armed bands that killed thousands of suspected leftists in the early stages of the civil war.
The president-elect said the death squads had been formed by members of the nation's security forces who took matters into their own hands, "trying to solve things in ways they thought best. . . but it was obviously not."