January 16, 2000
Former Dominican leader Balaguer to run again

                  SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) -- Despite poor health,
                  near blindness and flagging popularity, former Dominican strongman Joaquin
                  Balaguer on Saturday entered the race for the presidency of the Caribbean
                  country he led with an iron grip for 22 years.

                  Balaguer, 93, was helped by aides to the podium after the 1,700 delegates
                  of his Social Christian Reformist Party, packing a basketball arena, chose
                  him to run in the May 16 vote.

                  "Reformers, luck is on our side -- let's go forward!" he said in a strong voice
                  that was answered with thunderous applause befitting his status as one of the
                  region's last "caudillos," or strongmen. "We have to push this country toward
                  true social development ... to make this country more just for all, and each
                  day less poor."

                  The nomination came hours after the bombing of a Santo Domingo law
                  office owned by party official Mario Read Vittine, who had challenged
                  Balaguer's pending nomination by saying Saturday's convention was
                  improperly scheduled. No one was injured during the attack Friday night,
                  police said.

                  Balaguer has remained the dominant figure in his conservative party since he
                  was forced to give up the presidency in 1996 amid allegations of voter fraud.
                  His endorsement helped Leonel Fernandez of the moderate Dominican
                  Liberation Party to the presidency -- a move that gave the elderly ruler a
                  kingmaker role but put the country on a more liberal course.

                  Fernandez has courted foreign investment, fought corruption and liberalized
                  the economy, helping fuel a sustained growth. But the economic boom also
                  has exacerbated class differences and largely passed by the majority of poor
                  Dominicans, and Fernandez has been repeatedly thwarted by an
                  uncooperative legislature.

                  Fernandez is blocked from seeking a consecutive term under a 1994 law
                  originally aimed at curbing Balaguer's power -- leaving Balaguer facing two
                  first-time candidates: Hipolito Mejia of the leftist Dominican Revolutionary
                  Party, a younger politician with a strong grassroots following, and former
                  Fernandez adviser Danilo Medina.

                  Polls have put Mejia in the lead, with a theoretical Balaguer candidacy
                  placing third -- but a wave of nostalgia for his firm hand at the helm makes
                  the race difficult to predict.

                  Supporters have been laying the groundwork for Balaguer's campaign for
                  months, with posters across Santo Domingo declaring "Balaguer is
                  Returning!" Within hours of his nomination, Dominican television stations
                  were running Balaguer campaign advertisements.

                  Dictator Rafael Trujillo, who was assassinated in 1961, named Balaguer
                  president in 1960.

                  A 1961 coup forced Balaguer into exile until the United States invaded in
                  1965 to quash a leftist revolt. Balaguer won the 1966 elections.

                  As an autocratic president over much of the next three decades, he invested
                  billions of dollars in roads, housing and other public works but failed to lift
                  most of the island's 8 million people out of poverty. Unemployment still
                  hovers around 30 percent.

                    Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.