LIMA - Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori was convicted of human rights crimes Tuesday, the first time a democratically elected Latin American president was found guilty in his own country of rights abuses.

A three-judge panel convicted him for ordering a military death squad to carry out two massacres that killed 25 people during his 1990-2000 rule, when he was battling guerrillas. Nearly 70,000 people died in two decades of conflict in the Andean country.

Once lauded as a hero, Fujimori, 70, could spend the rest of his life in prison if he receives a lengthy sentence. He can appeal the ruling, but the verdict is likely to have far-reaching political implications for Peru.

This court declares that the four charges against him have been proven beyond all reasonable doubt, Judge Cesar San Martin said.

Fujimori's popularity soared when he defeated the brutal Shining Path guerrillas, tamed economic chaos, and freed dozens of hostages taken by the Tupac Amaru insurgency during a siege of the Japanese ambassador's house in Lima.

But a corruption scandal involving his spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, sank his government in 2000. Fujimori fled to exile in Japan, the country where his parents were born. He was later arrested in Chile and extradited to Peru.

Current President Alan Garcia has also been haunted by accusations that he violated rights during his first term in the 1980s. Pressure to put him on trial may gain force following the Fujimori verdict.

With this ruling ... the Peruvian court has shown the world that even former heads of state cannot expect to get away with serious crimes, said Maria McFarland of Human Rights Watch.

Fujimori's daughter Keiko, a popular lawmaker, could try to use her father's conviction to create sympathy and spur her own presidential ambitions.

Polls show she is already a frontrunner. A third of Peruvians still support her father.

Liberty for Fujimori! a crowd waving the orange flags of his party shouted outside the courthouse.