Bolivian mayor apologizes (sort of) for grabbing woman's thigh

In this May 1, 2014, frame grab taken from APTN video provided by Giga Vision, Santa Cruz Mayor Percy Fernandez grabs the thigh of journalist Mercedes Guzman as he speaks during a public event in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. AP

LA PAZ, Bolivia - The mayor of Bolivia's largest city has had to make a televised apology after grabbing the thigh of a woman during a broadcast event.

Santa Cruz Mayor Percy Fernandez appeared on television Monday night to express "anguish for this mess that's been created." He said he had not intended to offend journalist Mercedes Guzman, "nor have I done so." He did not specifically apologize for touching her.

Television images show Guzman holding a microphone in one hand and struggling to lift the mayor's hand from her thigh with the other during a public appearance last week.

Several legislators, journalists' organizations and women's rights activists denounced the 75-year-old mayor and Guzman's husband Marco Antonio Espindola threatened to bring a legal complaint if the mayor did not apologize.

"Even the schoolmates of my son in primary school heard about this event and my adolescent son had to put up with uncomfortable questions at his school," Espindola said. "It shamed my family."

The blunt-spoken Fernandez has run into controversy before for his treatment of women. In 2012, he was filmed running his hands over the bottom of a female legislator at a ceremony. At another event, he planted a lengthy kiss on a seemingly unwilling female engineer.

boliviamayor2.jpg
In this August 2010 frame grab taken from APTN video provided by UNITEL, Santa Cruz Mayor Percy Fernandez grabs and kisses a female engineer during a bridge inspection event in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
AP
While Guzman's family has not presented a criminal complaint, opposition legislator Marcela Revollo Fernandez on Monday filed a complaint in the nation's capital, La Paz, accusing the mayor of sexual harassment, sexual violence and discrimination," charges that potentially would lead to as many as four years in prison.

Fernandez has been mayor of the city of more than 1 million several times and has lately supported President Evo Morales, who in February called him the country's best mayor.

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