The pre-trial detention in prison of former Peruvian President Pedro Castillo has been extended by 18 months, a decision likely to inflame political tensions and protests that have gripped the South American country since his impeachment and detention last week.
In Thursday’s ruling, a judicial panel in the country's apex court ruled that Castillo, initially jailed for seven days, will continue to be in detention as prosecutors continue their investigation into the criminal charges against him.
The verdict did not address the charges against the embattled former president, who has been charged with rebellion and conspiracy, but a Supreme Court judge who presided over the panel cited the risk of him fleeing the country.
Castillo has denied all the accusations against him, saying he is being “unjustly and arbitrarily detained” at a police facility near the capital, Lima.
Protesters in Peru have demanded his release from prison, as well as fresh elections and the removal of his successor, Dina Boluarte.
They gathered outside the prison where he was held, holding banners against Boluarte and calling for Congress to be shut down.
"We must fight. Pedro Castillo is president," said protester Milagros Quispe, holding her five-month-old baby in her arms outside the congress building, where demonstrators have gathered daily since lawmakers removed the leftist Castillo from office on December 7.
"We only want the voice of the people to be heard. The people are demanding that they bring back our president," said a protester, Gloria Machuca.
They have threatened the logistics of major copper mines and led to curfews across the Andean nation.
According to officials, at least 15 people have been killed in the protests so far that have roiled the country since last week.
Castillo, a former teacher and the son of peasant farmers, won a narrow victory in last year's election under the banner of the Pro-Marxist Free Party.
But he was ousted by a landslide vote of lawmakers who accused him of moral turpitude just hours after ordering Congress to dissolve on December 7.
Four countries led by leftist presidents – Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Mexico – signed a joint statement this week declaring Castillo a "victim of undemocratic harassment".
A bloc of leftist countries that met in Havana, including Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua, also supported the jailed leader, rejecting what they called the political actions of right-wing forces.
Foreign Minister Ana Cecilia Gervasi, newly appointed after Bulvarte replaced Castillo last week, responded Thursday morning by summoning Peruvian ministers in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Mexico for consultations.
Dozens of Castillo's supporters have camped outside the prison where he is being held in Lima to demand his release. The indigenous people of the Peruvian Amazon forest in the center and southeast have also joined the protests.
Former Vice President Boluarte, who was sworn in as president after Castillo's arrest, declared a 30-day state of emergency on Wednesday.
He also asked Congress on Thursday to approve a constitutional amendment that would allow him to move the elections scheduled for July 2026 to December 2023.
So far, four airports have been closed and more than 100 roads have been blocked across the country due to protests. Hundreds of tourists were stranded at the 15th-century Inca citadel of Machu Picchu after a train stopped at Peru's tourist attractions.
The leaders of the protestors have said that they will hold a new demonstration on Friday and demand the release of Castillo, the recall of Boluarte, the closure of Congress and the holding of new elections.