Peru's president seeks to hold elections early as protests take deadly turn

AFP , Monday 12 Dec 2022

New Peruvian President Dina Boluarte announced Sunday that she would seek to hold elections two-years early, while also declaring a state of emergency in certain areas after protests following the arrest of her predecessor left two dead.

Peru clashes
Supporters of former President Pedro Castillo clash with riot police during a demonstration demanding his release and the closure of the Peruvian Congress in Lima, on December 11, 2022. AFP


Demonstrators across the country -- notably in northern and Andean towns -- had been calling for fresh elections, along with a national strike and the release of leftist former president Pedro Castillo, who was removed from office on Wednesday for attempting to dissolve Congress and rule by decree.

"Interpreting the will of the citizens... I have decided to take the initiative to reach an agreement with the Congress of the Republic to advance general elections to the month of April of 2024," Boluarte said in a televised address, noting that a bill on moving the poll forward from 2026 would be submitted in the coming days.

She added that, "with the same patriotic sentiment," she was declaring a "state of emergency in areas of high social conflict in order to peacefully" restore order.

Boluarte, a former prosecutor who had served as Castillo's vice president, was quickly sworn in to replace him following his impeachment and subsequent arrest last week.

On Saturday, she introduced her new cabinet, a group with an independent and technocratic profile and including eight women.

She named former prosecutor Pedro Angulo as prime minister.

On Sunday demonstrators in cities across the country's interior -- including Cajamarca, Arequipa, Huancayo, Cusco and Puno -- demanded Castillo's release.

New clashes broke out between protesters and police in the southern city of Andahuaylas, leaving two dead and at least five injured -- including a police officer -- as demonstrators attempted to storm the city's airport, authorities said.

In her address, Boluarte expressed regret for the protesters' deaths.

"Remain calm"

Riot police were deployed to the airport to contain the thousands of demonstrators in Andahuaylas, which lies in Boluarte's home region of Apurimac.

Protesters fired slingshots and hurled stones, while police responded with tear gas, images from the scene broadcast by local TV showed. A police station in the Apurimac town of Huancabamba was set on fire, RPP radio reported.

"I urge people to remain calm," Interior Minister Cesar Cervantes told the station, as he announced the second death shortly after police confirmed the first -- a teenager.

Clashes in Andahuaylas on Saturday saw 16 civilians and four police officers injured.

"No Peruvian's life should be sacrificed for political interests," Boluarte tweeted on Sunday evening before her speech, reiterating a call for "dialogue and the rejection of violence."

The country's right-leaning Congress convened an emergency session Sunday afternoon to discuss the crisis, but had to be suspended after physical altercations broke out.

In images posted on social media, a man can be seen punching another man from behind and then members shoving each other in the center of the chamber.

Some 1,000 to 2,000 people rallied in Lima on Sunday shouting, "Castillo you are not alone, the people support you" and brandishing signs accusing "Dina and Congress" of being "corrupt rats," before police dispersed the crowd with tear gas.

"Indefinite strike"

Meanwhile, rural unions and organizations representing Indigenous peoples called for an "indefinite strike" beginning Tuesday in support of Castillo, himself the son of a peasant family.

They demanded 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 groups about a dozen organizations.

The Rural Front contends that Castillo "did not perpetrate a coup d'etat" on Wednesday when he announced the suspension of Congress and said he would be ruling by decree.

With his background as a rural teacher and union leader, and with little contact with the nation's elites, Castillo has always drawn his strongest support from Andean regions, while struggling to find backing in coastal Lima.

The ousted president was arrested Wednesday while on his way to the Mexican embassy to seek asylum, and prosecutors have charged him with rebellion and conspiracy.

The pledge to hold new elections came as recent polls showed nearly nine in 10 Peruvians disapproved of the nation's legislature.

Prior to Boluarte's announcement, political analyst Giovanna Penaflor had told AFP that the president needed to make clear "that her role is to facilitate new general elections," and that doing so would provide needed stability.

Peru is now on its sixth president since 2016.

Castillo's 17-month rule was overshadowed by six investigations against him and his family, mass protests demanding his removal, and a power struggle with the opposition-backed Congress.

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