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

The governments of Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Bolivia also released a joint statement in support of Castillo


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Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Published: Tue 13 Dec 2022, 6:58 AM

On Monday, five more protesters died in Peru as violent demonstrations over the ousting of the former president showed no sign of dying down, 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.

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.

About 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.

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

The clashes left one dead, while another four people died as riot police quashed protests in Boluarte's southeastern home region of Apurimac — where two other protesters died in clashes with security forces during an attempt to storm an airport on Sunday.

"We have seven people reported dead" since Sunday, a source from the public defender's office told AFP, on condition of anonymity.

Demonstrators also torched the public prosecutor's office and a police station, in Apurimac. In Arequipa, protesters also occupied one of the largest factories in the country, owned by the dairy company Gloria.

In a statement, 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".

Castillo has been in detention since last Wednesday, and prosecutors have charged him with 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 on Tuesday, in which they will appeal a court order that he be detained for seven days, and seek his immediate release.

"The president's position is that he is a political prisoner," said lawyer Ronald Atencio.

Meanwhile, the leftist governments of Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Bolivia released a joint statement in support of Castillo, saying that 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.

She said a bill on moving the poll forward would be submitted in the coming days.

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

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

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 on Tuesday in support of Castillo, who is 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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