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Peru in crisis as president dissolves congress

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Lima (AFP)

Peru plunged further into crisis Tuesday after the president dissolved congress in a spat over corruption and called elections, only to be suspended himself by angry lawmakers.

Thousands of people poured into the streets of Lima and other major cities in a show of support for President Martin Vizcarra hours after he announced the shut-down.

The heads of Peru's armed forces and police reaffirmed their allegiance to the president, as did around a dozen regional governors who joined street celebrations celebrating the dissolution.

"There's too much corruption. Too much of it without any shame. It's high time this happened, that there's a change," said protester Jenny Sanchez in Lima, as demonstrators waved flags saying "New Peru".

In a televised address late Monday, Vizcarra announced he was dissolving the opposition-dominated congress after it blocked a raft of anti-corruption reforms, including the way judges are appointed to the Supreme Court.

Opposition lawmakers accused Vizcarra of mounting a "coup d'etat", voted to suspend him temporarily from the presidency and appointed Vice President Mercedes Araoz as leader instead.

"I will not run from my responsibilities, no matter how difficult the circumstances may be," said Araoz, who had distanced herself from Vizcarra and described the dissolution as unconstitutional.

Despite the heated stand-off, Peru went about its business as usual on Tuesday, with the only noticeable change being heightened security around the government palace and the congress.

- January elections -

Vizcarra called new legislative elections for January 26, according to a decree published in the official gazette.

Under an electoral reform enacted last year, lawmakers cannot run for re-election.

Until the new elections, legislative duties will fall to an 18-member congressional commission.

Meanwhile, the officially dissolved chamber is seeking to meet on Friday to consider a motion to dismiss the president, Speaker Pedro Olaechea said.

"We are facing a coup d'etat," opposition legislator Jorge del Castillo said of Vizcarra's move. "I hope the armed forces and the police will stay out of this charade."

The Catholic Church called for dialogue and urged politicians to "act according to the constitutional and democratic order."

Vizcarra -- whose anti-graft drive has won him widespread popularity -- has repeatedly clashed with Congress, which is dominated by the Popular Force party of Keiko Fujimori.

Vizcarra had warned Congress on Sunday that he would dissolve the legislative body if it denied him a vote of confidence Monday on reforming the method of appointing magistrates. The move was aimed at preventing the opposition from taking control of the high court.

- Stand-off -

Peru's grinding political stand-off has its roots in the 2016 presidential election, when banker Pedro Pablo Kuczynski beat Fujimori.

Although she lost her bid for the presidency, her party won an overwhelming majority in Congress, eventually forcing Kuczynski's resignation last year amid a corruption scandal.

Kuczynski was replaced by Vizcarra, then first vice-president, who has vowed to clean up Peruvian politics which has long been embroiled in a multi-million dollar corruption scandal.

Fujimori is the eldest daughter of disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori and is herself in prison awaiting trial after being accused of accepting $1.2 million in illicit party funding from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht for her 2011 presidential campaign.

The Supreme Court is currently debating whether to free Keiko Fujimori -- once Peru's most popular politician -- from pre-trial detention.

Odebrecht has admitted paying at least $29 million in bribes to Peruvian officials since 2004.

Three former presidents, including Kuczynski, are also being investigated over Odebrecht while a fourth, Alan Garcia, committed suicide in April after police arrived at his house to arrest him for money laundering.

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