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Chamorro Splits Coalition With First Hard Decision

CONTROVERSIAL ARMY CHIEF

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TALK about a short honeymoon. Violeta Barrios de Chamorro had hardly entered the Managua stadium for her inauguration ceremony Wednesday when militant Sandinistas began hurling plastic bags filled with water and orange soda at her. A smiling Mrs. Chamorro persevered, her spirits and her dress undampened by the barrage.

But shortly after being sworn into office, Nicaragua's new president was stung again by the silent disapproval of her own followers when she announced that Sandinista military leader Humberto Ortega Saavedra would remain temporarily as Army chief. One flag-waving Chamorro supporter sitting next to a reporter stomped from the stadium in disgust.

With hard-liners harping on both sides, Chamorro is carving out a conciliatory course and heeding some sage advice: Forget the honeymoon, just try to save the marriage.

``The extremes in Nicaragua have always had the tendency to grab the process and feed each other,'' says Robert Pastor, a former Carter administration official involved in the transition process. ``But if the two sides fall back into a confrontational mode, then all that's been done will be at risk.''

Chamorro and her top advisers have tried to avoid conflict with the Sandinista Front, not out of love, but respect. The Sandinistas, after all, control 100,000 armed men as well as the country's strongest unions and popular organizations. Excluding them from negotiations would open up the possibility of a violent backlash.

But in the rush to negotiate with their former foes, Chamorro's advisers - led by Antonio Lacayo Oyanguren, minister of the presidency - have allowed their own political coalition to fall apart.

The fragile grouping of 14 parties ranging from conservative to communist moved a step closer to chaos Wednesday after Chamorro announced that the Army would remain in Gen. Ortega's hands. Ortega, older brother of ex-President Daniel Ortega Saavedra, is seen as the chief Sandinista strategist and architect of the Sandinistas' military buildup.

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