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In Argentina, Vargas Llosa insists on free speech

Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa thanked Argentina's president Thursday for preventing Argentine intellectuals from blocking his keynote address at the nation's annual book fair.

The Peruvian writer said that he hoped Cristina Fernandez's insistence on freedom of expression would be contagious in Argentina, and that her followers also respect the right of everyone to share ideas, including opposition newspapers that feel threatened by her government.

Vargas Llosa is a fierce defender of personal and economic liberties who has criticized the policies and alleged corruption of the Fernandez government.

The presence of the author of "The Feast of the Goat" at the book fair was opposed by intellectuals close to the government as well as administration officials unhappy with Vargas Llosa's criticisms.

The writer thanked Fernandez for intervening when the book fair's organizers were under pressure to withdraw his invitation.

In his speech Thursday night, Vargas Llosa said books "have always brought out jealousy among enemies of freedom, who believe they are owners of absolute truth."

He said that "Nazis, fascists, communists, military and civilian strongmen blinded by the owners of absolute truth have tried to tame the critical spirit that has always been the engine of change. Fortunately they have always failed, but they have left victims along the way."

The debate in Argentina is whether private media corporations or government-supported media pose the bigger threat to free speech.

Human rights leader Hebe de Bonafini, a close Fernandez ally, gave Vargas Llosa a petition before his speech asking that the Argentine media company Grupo Clarin include her organization's TV program in its cable offerings. There were no other incidents surrounding the event, despite expectations of protests.

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Associated Press writer Alejandro Moreyra contributed to this report.