Peru protesters clash with police over ousting of president

Lima (AFP) –


Thousands of people took to the streets in cities across Peru Thursday night to protest the ousting of popular president Martin Vizcarra by Congress over corruption allegations.

In the capital Lima, police used tear gas to disperse a group trying to reach the Congress building while protesters threw sticks and stones at the officers.

Congress voted Monday to impeach Vizcarra over allegations he took kickbacks from developers while a regional governor and Speaker Manuel Merino assumed office on Tuesday as Peru's third president in four years.

"In all the cities of Peru people are rising up because they consider that this has been a coup," protester Luis Bardales, 34, told AFP in Lima.

"And that is why I would like to live in a future where my children can be in a democratic country where the laws are respected," he said.

Vizcarra has dismissed the impeachment vote and again questioned the legality of his removal.

"The legality is in question and the legitimacy, given by the people -- we see it in the street" with the protests, Vizcarra said in front of the prosecutor's office where he will face the corruption charges, which he denies.

Vizcarra survived a previous impeachment vote in September charged with "moral incapacity."

"We do not agree with parliament. It was not necessary" to dismiss Vizcarra, said protester Irene Aguilar, marching with her daughter.

"It's not for Vizcarra, it's for us," proclaimed a banner where riot police cordoned off the area around the Congress building.

"This parliament is a pandemic that does not stop" and "even the Covid has not hurt us as much as Merino," other banners said as the demonstrators marched peacefully.

"The people defend democracy against the abuse of power," said centrist MP Gino Costa, who voted against impeachment.

- Arrests -

Vizcarra said the protests must be allowed and called on the people to express themselves peacefully.

"We also appeal to the national police to respect the demonstrators," he said.

A dozen protesters were arrested Thursday, rights lawyer Mar Perez said on America Noticias television.

The South America office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on authorities to guarantee the right of Peruvians to protest, saying it had received "disturbing information" about police behavior.

"The police have the obligation to observe at all times the international standards on the use of force in the management of demonstrations," said representative Jan Jarab.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on Thursday also tweeted its "concern at the excessive use of force."

Interim president Merino called for calm.

"We are not going to put in place a brutal change," he said, after installing his government, with a conservative majority.

When he took office on Tuesday, Merino said he would respect the calendar for the next general elections, scheduled for April 11, 2021 and would leave power on July 28, 2021, the day when Vizcarra's mandate was to end.

Vizcarra had broad popular support since succeeding Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, the former Wall Street banker who was forced to resign under threat of impeachment over corruption allegations in 2018.

Some lawmakers had questioned the wisdom of removing Vizcarra in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and a crippling recession, with the financial markets nervous about whether the new government will maintain existing economic policies.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit Peru hard, with GDP plunging more than 30 percent in the second quarter.

The South American country has the world's highest per capita death rate from the virus, which has caused nearly 35,000 deaths and more than 920,000 infections.