Thousands of people have marched in the Peruvian capital of Lima and other cities to protest the presidential pardon of the country’s ailing ex-strongman Alberto Fujimori, in what many view as part of a political deal to avert the impeachment of the current president.
Over 5,000 people took part in rallies across the country on Monday carrying placards that described the 79-year-old Fujimori as a “murderer” and “thief.”
Fujimori was serving a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses during his rule, including in a brutal campaign against the leftist Shining Path rebel group.
Peru’s President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski granted the pardon to the former president and seven other prisoners on “humanitarian” grounds, placing himself in the midst of yet another political controversy just three days after narrowly avoiding impeachment on corruption charges.
The Sunday pardon came after votes of abstention cast by lawmakers from a party led by Fujimori’s children resulted in the failure of a legislative motion to impeach Kuczynski.
During the Monday rallies, protesters also demanded Kuczynski’s ouster from the presidential office.
“Out, out PPK! Out, out PPK!” chanted the angry protesters — among them the relatives of victims of Fujimori’s brutal rule — using the incumbent president’s initials.
Kuczynski had made a pledge during his electoral campaign last year not to pardon Fujimori.
“We are here as relatives to reject this illegal pardon, because it does not correspond to the gravity of the crimes,” said Gisella Ortiz, who represented a group of relatives of victims.
A sizable force of anti-riot police moved with the protesters along the streets of Lima to prevent participants from rushing to the clinic where Fujimori is hospitalized.
Kuczynski stands accused of lying about his financial ties to the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. Fujimori’s powerful lawmaker daughter, Keiko Fujimori, led the impeachment drive against Kuczynski in congress but MPs loyal to the ex-president’s son, Kenji, who is also a legislator, foiled the effort by abstaining.
Kuczynski’s opponents say that the pardon clearly reflected a payback for the abstentions that thwarted impeachment.
Fujimori, who ruled over Peru as a US-backed president from 1990 to 2000, is remembered for stabilizing the economy but is also blamed for massive human rights abuses. He was transferred to a clinic Saturday for what his doctors described as heart arrhythmia.
President appeals to protesters to ‘turn the page’
Kuczynski defended his pardon for Fujimori late on Monday. In his first public comment since ordering the pardon, he appealed to Peruvians protesting the move to “turn the page” and accept it.
“I am convinced that those of us who feel democratic should not allow Alberto Fujimori to die in prison, because justice is not revenge,” the Peruvian president said. “It is about the health and chances of life of a former president of Peru who, having committed excesses and grave errors, was sentenced and has already completed 12 years” in prison.