Protesters in Peru used tear gas after the president called for a truce

Protesters in Peru used tear gas after the president called for a truce

Protesters in Peru used tear gas after the president called for a truce

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Peru’s capital and were met with tear gas and bullets amid clashes with security forces hours after President Dina Bolluarte called for a “ceasefire” in nearly two months of protests.

The anti-government demonstration on Tuesday was the largest – and most violent – ​​since last Thursday, when large groups of people, many from remote Andean regions, descended on the capital to demand Boluarte’s resignation, snap elections and the dissolution of Congress.

“We cannot have a truce when he is not telling the truth,” Blanca España Mesa, 48, said of Peru’s president. Even though her eyes welled up from the tears, España Mesa said she was “happy because a lot of people came today. It’s like the world has woken up.”

Before last week, most of the major anti-government protests that followed the ouster of President Pedro Castillo took place in remote areas of Peru, mostly in the country’s south, exposing the deep divide between residents of the capital and the neglected countryside.

The crisis that has sparked Peru’s worst political violence in more than two decades began when Castillo, Peru’s first leader from a rural Andean background, tried to short-circuit the third impeachment trial of his young government by ordering the dissolution of Congress on 7 December. Lawmakers instead impeached him, the national police arrested him before he could find refuge, and Boluarte, who was his vice president, was sworn in.

Since then, 56 people have died amid unrest involving Castillo supporters, 45 of whom were killed in direct clashes with security forces, according to Peru’s ombudsman. None of the deaths occurred in Lima.

On Tuesday, police fired tear gas as they blocked the passage of protesters, who appeared more organized than before. The smell of tear gas permeated the air and could be felt even a block away as people leaving work suddenly had to cover their faces to try to lessen the sting.

“Murderers,” chanted the protesters, some of whom threw stones at the police.

Even after most of the protesters had left, police continued to fire tear gas to disperse small groups of people in a square in front of the country’s Supreme Court.

“I have a right to protest in this country,” said Emiliano Merino, 60, as he was treated by volunteer paramedics after bullets grazed each of his arms.

Boluarte had earlier called for a truce and blamed the protesters for the political violence that has engulfed the country, claiming in a press conference that illegal miners, drug traffickers and smugglers had formed a “paramilitary force” to seek chaos for political gain. . He said numerous roadblocks across the country and damage to infrastructure have cost the country more than $1 billion in lost production.

He suggested that the protesters who died of gunshot wounds were shot by other protesters, arguing that investigations will show their injuries are not consistent with the weapons carried by the officers. And meanwhile, around 90 police officers are being treated for bruises, he said: “What about their human rights?” asked the president.

The government has presented no evidence that any of the injured officers were hit by gunfire.

Human rights advocates say they are disappointed by the lack of international outcry from the regional and global community and are calling for condemnation of the state violence unleashed after Castillo’s impeachment.

Jennie Dador, executive secretary of Peru’s National Coordinator for Human Rights, said the lack of international response made it feel like “we are alone.”

“None of the states in the region have done anything concrete,” he said.

Boluarte was notably absent from a meeting of regional leaders on Tuesday in Argentina’s capital, where most avoided mentioning civilian deaths in Peru.

Human rights activists have acknowledged acts of violence by some protesters – including attempts to occupy airports and burn down police stations – but say the demonstrations have been largely peaceful.

Some of the leaders at the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States blamed the Peruvian government for the violence.

Chilean President Gabriel Borich said there was “an urgent need for a change in Peru because the result of the path of violence and repression is unacceptable.” Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a staunch supporter of Castillo, demanded “an end to the repression.”

During the summit’s closing ceremony, Argentine President Alberto Fernández called for an end to the “street violence and institutional violence that has claimed the lives of so many people” in Peru.

“The international community has expressed concern, but I really think it could be more assertive,” said César Muñoz, deputy Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

After some heated negotiations behind closed doors in Buenos Aires this afternoon, the situation in Peru was left out of the summit’s closing documents. “Peru is a stressful issue,” but pressure from some leaders had led to last-minute negotiations, an Argentine foreign ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity for lack of authorization to discuss policy.

“Peru has managed to fly under the radar,” said Marina Navarro, executive director of Amnesty International Peru. “Given the gravity of the situation, with this number of people who have died, we don’t see as much being said about it as it could be.”

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Associated Press writers Franklin Briceño in Lima and Almudena Calatrava in Buenos Aires, Argentina contributed to this report.

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