Peru Congress debates removing president over obstructing probe

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Lima (AFP)

Peru's Congress on Friday began debating a motion to remove President Martin Vizcarra from office for "moral incapacity" over accusations he tried to obstruct a corruption probe against government officials.

The debate was to be followed by a vote, expected late Friday, with Vizcarra's opponents needing 52 votes to open impeachment proceedings early next week.

"I'm not going to quit. I do not run," Vizcarra said in a televised address on the eve of the debate in which he denied any wrongdoing.

"We are facing a plot against democracy," he said, adding that he had nothing to hide but that lawmakers should act "with caution, with responsibility, and to take the decision they deem necessary."

Vizcarra, in power since 2018, came under fire after leaked audio recordings in which he is heard telling aides to hide details of his office's controversial hiring of a popular singer as a highly-paid cultural advisor.

Should Friday's motion pass, the opposition would need 87 votes to impeach Vizcarra. Six out of nine parties -- representing 95 of the 130 seats in Congress -- have backed the motion.

In the event of impeachment, legislative speaker Manuel Merino will act as interim leader until the current presidential term ends in July 2021.

Vizcarra has won popular support for an anti-corruption crusade that has put him at loggerheads with opponents in Congress, including over a reform banning convicted criminals from standing for election.

The impeachment motion is reminiscent of the one that forced the resignation of his predecessor Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in 2018, after he became embroiled in the Odebrecht bribes scandal.

It comes as the country is in the throes of an economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen Peru's second-quarter GDP slashed by 30 percent.