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President of Peru proposes to advance elections in the face of protests

A cloud of tear gas surrounds police officers trying to dispel supporters of ousted President Pedro Castillo, on Sunday, December 11, 2022, in San Martín square, in Lima.  (AP Photo/Martín Mejía)
A cloud of tear gas surrounds police officers trying to dispel supporters of ousted President Pedro Castillo, on Sunday, December 11, 2022, in San Martín square, in Lima. (AP Photo/Martín Mejía)

LIMA (AP) — The new president of Peru, Dina Boluarte, announced early Monday morning that she would propose advancing the elections to 2024, after thousands of protesters took to the streets again in different Peruvian cities on Sunday to demand her resignation and schedule elections to replace her and Congress. At least two people were reported dead during the protests.

In a televised speech, Boluarte made a concession to the protesters and said that he would propose to parliament to advance the elections to April 2024.

“Interpreting in the broadest way the will of the citizenry,” said the president, “I have decided to take the initiative to reach an agreement with the Congress of the Republic to advance the general elections.”

Many of the protesters in the ongoing political crisis are demanding the release of Pedro Castillo, the center-left president who was ousted by lawmakers on Wednesday after he tried to dissolve Congress ahead of a vote on whether to impeach him.

Hundreds of people demonstrated in Lima, where police used tear gas to repel protesters.

The protests rocking Peru have intensified particularly in rural areas, strongholds of Castillo, a former schoolteacher and political neophyte from a poor Andean district. Protesters set fire to a police station, vandalized a small airport used by the armed forces and marched through the streets.

A 15-year-old boy died from injuries sustained during a demonstration in Andahuaylas, a remote Andean community, lawmaker María Taipe Coronado said during a speech from the legislative palace calling for Boluarte’s departure.

“The death of this compatriot is the responsibility of Mrs. Dina for not presenting her resignation,” accused Taipe, who belongs to the Peru Libre party, which helped Castillo and Boluarte win the elections for president and vice president last year, before they both were expelled from it “Since when is protesting a crime?”

Taipe claimed that the authorities were using harsh repression tactics to repel the protesters. However, it is unknown at this time how the boy was injured. The state press reported a second death in that same community, but did not release more details.

Anthony Gutierrez, director of a local hospital, told a radio station that the second victim was an 18-year-old. At least 26 people have been injured, according to reports.

Boluarte, 60, was quickly sworn in midweek to replace Castillo, hours after the now ex-president surprised the country by ordering the dissolution of Congress, which in response removed him for “permanent moral incapacity.” He was arrested on charges of rebellion.

Castillo took his failed move against the opposition-controlled Congress hours before lawmakers were set to launch a third impeachment attempt against him.

Scattered protests across the country have continued for days.

On Saturday in Andahuaylas, 16 people received treatment at a hospital for concussions, including one who was in serious condition.

Boluarte has called for national unity so that the country can heal from the latest turmoil.

“The life of no Peruvian deserves to be sacrificed for political interests,” Boluarte tweeted Sunday after Taipe’s speech in Congress. “I express my condolences for the death of a citizen in Andahuaylas. I reiterate my call for dialogue and to put an end to violence”.

Meanwhile, in Lima, hundreds of people gathered again on Sunday in front of the legislative palace. Dozens of police in riot gear used tear gas on the crowd as lawmakers began a session inside the compound. Police also chased and beat protesters who were fleeing the scene amid clouds of gas.

Peru has had six presidents in the past six years, including three in a single week in 2020, when Congress exercised its impeachment powers.

The power struggle in the country has continued at a time when the Andean region and its thousands of small farms are struggling to survive the worst drought in half a century. The country of more than 33 million people is also going through a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections, after registering some 4.3 million cases and 217,000 deaths since the pandemic began.

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