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Portugal's military leaves nation's political crisis to the politicians

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Whenever the political temperature rises in Portugal, the people anxiously look for how the military will react. It is a habit that comes naturally in a country where the military took power in their own hands seven years ago to overthrow an outmoded dictatorship.

In a regime that traces its origins to a coup, however bloodless, the military's reaction to the latest political crisis was not slow in coming.

Faced with the spectacle of a government based on the clearest parliamentary majority since the 1974 revolution, disintegrating under the pressure of its own discontent supporters rather than the almost nonexistent opposition of its political enemies, the military decided it was time to teach the civilians a few lessons about democracy.

the occasion they chose was charged with symbolism. The cream of the Portuguese armed forces gathered in an artillery barracks opposite Lisbon's airport to celebrate Army Day with pomp and circumstance. Just six years ago, the same barracks, known as Ralis, was run by a soviet of officers and troopers and black-masked soldiers who harangued crowds of left-wing supporters from its walls at almost-nightly rallies.

Addressing rows of smart white-gloved troops, President Antonio Ramalho Eanes publicly buried the last fears of military interference in politics. He said that now that democracy was working, there was no more excuse for the Army or any group of military to try to establish themselves as the sole interpreters of the Portuguese people's will.

With perhaps more than one glance over his shoulder at Spain, where the Army is daily less hesitant to flex its political muscles, the Portuguese President announced "the end of the classical bogey of military intervention in political life."


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