Pope John Paul II, in one of his sternest lectures to a head of state, told President Alfredo Stroessner that respect for human rights "is not a question of political convenience."

The pontiff made the remarks in an address Monday night in the presidential palace to top government aides, foreign diplomats and Stroessner, 75, who has ruled Paraguay since a coup in 1954.John Paul flew from Peru to Paraguay, the last stop on his four-nation South American tour, and met privately with Stroessner for 30 minutes before delivering his speech.

Stroessner responded by declaring his government was democratically elected and saying, "Here we don't suffer the scourge of terrorism, hunger or drugs." He described Paraguay as a country "without social or political crises, tumult, street violence, polticial prisoners or hate."

Relations between the Stroessner government and the Vatican were strained last week when Paraguayan authorities canceled a meeting between the pope and a church-sponsored civic group that includes opposition figures. After talks with the church, the government lifted the ban.