Protests roll into Peru’s capital and are hit by tear gas, smoke – The Associated Press – en Español

Protests roll into Peru’s capital and are hit by tear gas, smoke – The Associated Press – en Español

LIMA, Peru (AP) – Thousands of protesters demanding the ouster of President Dina Boluarte poured into the Peruvian capital and clashed with police, who fired tear gas. Many came from remote regions, where dozens have died in the unrest that has gripped the country since Peru’s first leader from rural Andean areas was removed from office last month.

Marked by the worst political violence in Peru in more than two decades, the protests revealed deep divisions between the country’s urban elite, mostly concentrated in Lima, and poor rural areas. Former President Pedro Castillo is in custody and is expected to stand trial for rebellion as he was indicted after a failed attempt to dissolve Congress.

Protesters were expected to take to the streets of downtown Lima again on Friday, even though the city was quiet in the morning and there was less movement in the center of the capital than usual on a weekday.

Thursday was mostly quiet but punctuated by scuffles and tear gas. The government called on everyone who could to work from home. After sunset, clashes escalated, and late that night a major fire broke out in a building near the historic Plaza San Martin, although no connection to the protests was immediately clear.

Firefighters managed to extinguish the blaze early Friday morning, authorities said, noting that the cause of the fire was still unknown. The old building housed 28 people, all of whom had to be evacuated due to the risk of collapse.

Anger at Boluarte ran Thursday as protesters demanded her resignation and street vendors peddled T-shirts reading “Out Dina Boluarte,” “Dina killer, Peru expels you,” and “New elections, let them all go.” . ”

Peru’s ombudsman said at least 13 civilians and four police officers were injured in the protests in Lima on Thursday. A total of 22 police officers and 16 civilians were injured across the country on Thursday, said Interior Minister Vicente Romero Fernández.

The protesters blamed Boluarte for the violence. “Our God says you should not kill your neighbor. Dina Boluarte kills, she makes brothers fight,” Paulina Consac said as she carried a large Bible as she marched through downtown Lima with more than 2,000 demonstrators from Cusco.

Many Lima residents also joined today’s protests, with a strong presence of students and union members.

“We are at a breaking point between dictatorship and democracy,” said Pedro Mamani, a student at the National University of San Marcos, which has housed protesters who came to attend the protest.

The university was surrounded by police officers who were also stationed at key points in historic downtown Lima – a total of 11,800 police officers, according to Lima Police Chief Victor Zanabria.

Boluarte defied in a televised address alongside key government officials on Thursday night, in which she thanked the police for controlling the “violent protests” and vowed to prosecute those responsible for the violence. Boluarte has said she supports a plan to hold presidential and congressional elections in 2024, two years ahead of schedule.

The president also slammed the protesters for “not having a social agenda that the country needs”, accused them of “wanting to break the rule of law” and asked questions about their funding.

For most of the day, the protests played out as a game of cat and mouse, with protesters, some throwing rocks at police, trying to get through police cordons and officers responding with volleys of tear gas, which the put demonstrators to flight. with rags dipped in vinegar to relieve burning eyes and skin.

By early afternoon, protests had turned major streets into major pedestrian zones in downtown Lima.

Frustration was visible among the protesters, who had hoped to march to the Miraflores neighborhood, an emblematic neighborhood of the business elite, eight kilometers from downtown.

“We are surrounded,” said Sofia López, 42, as she sat on a bench in front of the country’s Supreme Court. “We tried to go through numerous places and we ended up going in circles.” Lopez was from Carabayllo, around 35 kilometers north of the capital.

At a park in Miraflores, a large police presence separated anti-government protesters from a small group of protesters expressing support for law enforcement. There, too, the police used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.

By taking the protest to Lima, protesters hoped to add weight to the movement that began when Boluarte was sworn into office on December 7 to replace Castillo.

“When there is tragedy or bloodbath outside the capital, it does not have the same political relevance on the public agenda as if it had taken place in the capital,” said Alonso Cárdenas, professor of public policy at Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University in Lima .

Protests have also taken place elsewhere, and videos posted on social media showed protesters attempting to storm the airport in southern Arequipa, Peru’s second-largest city. They were blocked by police and one person was killed in the ensuing clashes, the Peruvian Ombudsman said.

This was one of three airports attacked by protesters on Thursday, Boluarte said, adding it was no “mere coincidence” that they were stormed on the same day.

As the sun went down, fires smoldered in the streets of downtown Lima as protesters threw rocks at police officers, who fired so much tear gas it was hard to see.

“I’m angry,” said Verónica Paucar, 56, coughing from tear gas. “We will return peacefully.” Paucar is a Lima resident whose parents are from Cusco.

The clashes escalated after dark, and late Thursday night a raging inferno erupted in an old building near the protests taking place in Plaza San Martín in downtown Lima, though its connection to the demonstrations was not immediately clear was. Pictures showed people rushing to get their belongings from the building, which was near several government offices.

Activists have dubbed Thursday’s demonstration in Lima the Cuatro Suyos March, in reference to the four cardinal points of the Inca Empire. It’s also the name of a massive mobilization in 2000, when thousands of Peruvians took to the streets against the autocratic government of Alberto Fujimori, who resigned months later.

But there are key differences between these demonstrations and this week’s protests.

“In 2000, people were protesting against a regime already entrenched in power,” Cardenas said. “In this case, they are opposing a government that has only been in power for a month and is incredibly fragile.”

The 2000 protests also had a centralized leadership and were led by political parties.

The recent protests have largely been grassroots efforts without clear leadership, a dynamic evident Thursday as protesters often seemed lost, unsure of where to go next as their path was constantly blocked by law enforcement.

The protests have reached such proportions that the demonstrators are unlikely to be satisfied with Boluarte’s resignation and are now demanding more fundamental structural reforms.

Protesters said Thursday they would not be intimidated.

“This doesn’t end today, it won’t end tomorrow, but only when we achieve our goals,” said 61-year-old David Lozada as he gazed at a line of police officers with helmets and shields holding protesters from leaving the city Downtown Lima. “I don’t know what you’re thinking, you want to start a civil war?”

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This story has been updated to correct the former President’s first name to Pedro and not Eduardo.

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Associated Press journalist Mauricio Muñoz contributed.