October 8, 2014 / 11:19 PM / 3 years ago

Uruguay's Mujica to consult next government over Guantanamo prisoners

Uruguay's President Jose Mujica waves as he leaves the Itamaraty Palce after the 6th BRICS summit and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in Brasilia July 16, 2014.Ueslei Marcelino

MONTEVIDEO (Reuters) - Uruguay's outgoing leader Jose Mujica said he will consult with the country's next government about his increasingly unpopular decision to accept six Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

Blunt-talking leftist Mujica has called the detention center used to hold terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks a "human disgrace" and accepted a request from the United States to take some inmates so it can be shut down.

But a recent poll published by the consultancy Cifra shows opposition among Uruguayans to granting the prisoners refugee status in their small South American country is growing, with 58 percent against it compared with 50 percent in April.

A first round of Uruguay's presidential poll will take place on Oct. 26. A runoff vote, if no party reaches the majority required, will be held in November.

"We have to see what the opinion is of the new government," former guerrilla fighter Mujica told reporters.

"I don't avoid decisions when I have to make them, but a president cannot consider himself a king," he added.

Mujica, who in office has pursued radical policies such as marijuana legalization, is constitutionally barred from running for a second term.

The candidate for his left-wing Frente Amplio bloc, Tabare Vazquez, backs his decision to take the prisoners, dismissing fears the inmates could plan terrorist acts in Uruguay. Opposition candidate Luis Lacalle Pou of the traditional center party the Partido Nacional is against the decision.

Guantanamo, on the island of Cuba, has held some prisoners for a decade or longer without being charged or given a trial. The center has become a symbol of the excesses of U.S. President George W. Bush's "war on terror."

The prisoner transfer had been expected in August, but last month the presidency said it was unlikely to occur before the elections.

Reporting by Malena Castaldi, writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Richard Chang

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