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LATIN AMERICA | 13-12-2022 09:24

Seven dead as Peru's new leader fails to quell protests

Five more protesters died in Peru as violent demonstrations over the ousting of former president Pedro Castillo continue; Demostrators are demanding fresh elections and the resignation of new President Dina Boluarte.

Five more protesters died in Peru on Monday as violent demonstrations over the ousting of the former president showed no sign of calming, despite his successor's efforts to quell the unrest.

Seven people, including three teenagers, have now died in escalating protests since the leftist Pedro Castillo was accused of an attempted coup, impeached and arrested last week.

New President Dina Boluarte tried to ease tensions on Sunday, announcing she would seek to hold elections two years early and declaring a state of emergency in flashpoint areas.

But that had little effect as protesters continued to demand her resignation, blocking roads in several cities around the country with logs, rocks and burning tires.

Some 2,000 protesters smashed runway lighting, burned security booths and forced the closure of the airport in Peru's second-largest city Arequipa for several hours on Monday before police dispersed them with tear gas.

Around 100 Castillo supporters were camped out in front of the police facility in Lima where he is being held, demanding he be released and returned to office.

"We have been sleeping here for four nights and we will continue until we get the president back to the [presidential] palace," protester Ana Karina Ramos told AFP, with tears in her eyes.

Also Monday in Apurímac, demonstrators torched the public prosecutor's office and a police station.

In Arequipa, protesters occupied one of the largest factories in the country, owned by the dairy company Gloria.

Train services between Cusco and Machu Picchu, Peru's best known tourist site, will be suspended from Tuesday to ensure passenger safety ahead of a national strike called for by Castillo supporters, the rail operator said.

Cusco's international airport was also closed after protesters attempted to "violently enter" it on Monday, aviation authorities said.

Seven people have been killed since Sunday, a source from the public defender's office told AFP on condition of anonymity.

UN Human Rights Office spokeswoman Marta Hurtado warned that "the situation may escalate further" and urged "all involved to exercise restraint."

Hurtado also called on authorities to "allow people to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of opinion and expression."

 

'Political prisoner'

Castillo has been in detention since last Wednesday, and is facing charges of rebellion and conspiracy after he dissolved Congress and vowed to rule by decree.

The former president met with his lawyers in Lima ahead of a hearing Tuesday in which he will seek his immediate release.

Meanwhile, the leftist governments of Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Bolivia released a joint statement in support of Castillo, saying he had been "the victim of anti-democratic harassment" since his election.

Castillo's 17-month rule was overshadowed by six investigations against him and his family, mass protests demanding his removal, and a power struggle with the opposition-controlled Congress.

Boluarte, a former prosecutor who had served as Castillo's vice-president, was quickly sworn in to replace him following his impeachment and arrest.

On Sunday, she tried to appease citizens in a televised address saying she would seek "to reach an agreement" with Congress to bring forward elections from July 2026 to April 2024.

The country's right-leaning Congress convened an emergency session on Sunday afternoon to discuss the crisis, but it had to be suspended after fighting broke out.

On Monday, the government fired the 26 regional prefects who had been appointed by Castillo, accusing them of "inciting protests."

 

'Indefinite strike'

With his background as a rural teacher and union leader, and with little contact among the nation's elites, Castillo has always drawn his strongest support from Andean regions, while struggling to find backing in coastal Lima.

Rural unions and organisations representing Indigenous peoples have called for an "indefinite strike" beginning Tuesday in support of Castillo, himself the son of a peasant family.

They demanded the suspension of Congress, early elections and a new constitution, as well as Castillo's immediate release, according to a statement from the Agrarian and Rural Front of Peru, which groups about a dozen organisations.

Peru is no stranger to political instability and is now on its sixth president since 2016.

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by Carlos Mandujano & Luis Jaime Cisneros, AFP

) Pedro Castillo, Dina Boluarte

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