Kjell Eugenio Laugerud, 79, a former Guatemalan president who is credited with helping rebuild the country after a devastating 1976 earthquake, died Wednesday at his Guatemala City home, military spokesman Byron Gutierrez said Friday. Mr. Laugerud died from complications of cancer.

His conservative 1974-78 administration is credited with an effective response to a quake that killed thousands, but was criticized for rights abuses in an escalating fight with leftist rebels.

Born to a Norwegian father and Guatemalan mother, Mr. Laugerud rose through the military ranks to become a general and served as defense minister in 1971.

He was elected president in 1974 with the backing of the far-right National Liberation Movement party in elections marred by violence and accusations of fraud.

Two years later, an earthquake killed 23,000 people. Mr. Laugerud's quick response in visiting devastated areas and an efficient management of foreign aid helped bolster his popularity. He helped Guatemalans rally around the reconstruction efforts with the celebrated phrase, "Guatemala is wounded, but not fatally."

In 1977, after the Carter administration criticized Guatemala's human-rights situation because of forced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary executions, Mr. Laugerud announced he would not accept U.S. military aid, straying from past governments that would not stand up to Washington. It was largely a symbolic gesture, however, since the aid already was appropriated for that year. - AP