Supporters of former President Pedro Castillo protest and demand his release and the closure of the Peruvian Congress in Lima December 11, 2022. (Photo by ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP)
by Carlos Mandujano and Luis Jaime Cisneros
LIMA, Peru (AFP) – Protests against the new Peruvian government ended deadly on Sunday, with two people killed when police clashed with angry protesters demanding a nationwide strike, new elections and the release of imprisoned former President Pedro Castillo.
Protests have grown, particularly in northern and Andean cities, since the South American country’s legislature ousted leftist Castillo on Wednesday after he tried to dissolve Congress and rule by decree.
Dina Boluarte, a former prosecutor who had served as Castillo’s vice president, was quickly sworn in to replace him.
On Saturday, she unveiled her new cabinet, a group of eight women with an independent and technocratic profile.
She appointed former prosecutor Pedro Angulo as prime minister.
After his ouster, Castillo was quickly arrested, and on Sunday protesters in inland cities – including Cajamarca, Arequipa, Huancayo, Cusco and Puno – called for his release.
Fresh clashes erupted between protesters and police on Sunday in the southern city of Andahuaylas, leaving two dead and at least five injured – including a police officer – as protesters attempted to storm the city’s airport, authorities said .
– ‘Stay calm’ –
Riot police have been dispatched to the airport to contain the thousands of protesters in Andahuaylas, which is in Boluarte’s home region of Apurimac.
Demonstrators fired slingshots and hurled stones while police responded with tear gas, according to footage of the scene broadcast by local television. A police station in the town of Huancabamba in Apurimac was set on fire, RPP radio reported.
“I urge people to remain calm,” Interior Minister Cesar Cervantes told the broadcaster as he announced the second death shortly after police confirmed the first – a teenager.
Clashes in Andahuaylas on Saturday injured 16 civilians and four police officers.
“No Peruvian life should be sacrificed for political interests,” Boluarte tweeted Sunday night, repeating a call for “dialogue and rejection of violence.”
The country’s right-wing Congress held an emergency session on Sunday afternoon to discuss the crisis but had to be suspended after physical altercations broke out.
In pictures posted to social media, a man can be seen hitting another man from behind, and then the members shove each other in the middle of the chamber.
About 1,000 to 2,000 people gathered in Lima on Sunday, shouting “Castillo, you are not alone, people support you” and waving signs accusing “Dina and Congress” of being “corrupt rats” before the Police dispersed the crowd with tear gas.
– “Indefinite Strike” –
Meanwhile, rural unions and organizations representing indigenous peoples have called for an “indefinite strike” due to begin Tuesday in support of Castillo, himself the son of a farming family.
They called for 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 includes about a dozen organizations.
The Rural Front claims Castillo “did not commit a coup d’état” on Wednesday when he announced the suspension of Congress and said he would rule by decree.
With a background as a rural teacher and union leader, and little contact with the country’s elites, Castillo has always drawn his strongest support from the Andean regions while struggling to find support on the Lima coast.
The ousted president was arrested on Wednesday as he was on his way to the Mexican embassy to seek asylum and prosecutors have charged him with rebellion and conspiracy.
The calls for new elections come as recent polls show nearly nine in 10 Peruvians disapprove of the country’s legislation.
Political scientist Giovanna Penaflor told AFP that Boluarte – who did not rule out snap elections on Friday – needs to clarify whether she intends to lead an interim government or remain in power until 2026.
“She should be aware that her role is to facilitate new general elections,” Penaflor added, saying it would provide the necessary stability and “allow this cabinet to be nothing like the past.”
Peru has now been its sixth president since 2016.
Castillo’s 17-month rule was marred by six investigations into him and his family, mass protests for his ouster, and a power struggle with the opposition-backed Congress.
© Agence France-Presse