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Peru protests rage on despite president's plea for calm

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Members of the Peruvian security forces face off with protesters on a bridge near the airport in the southern city of Arequipa on January 20, 2023. (AFP photo)

Stone-throwing protesters fought pitched battles with police at fresh demonstrations demanding the resignation of Peruvian President Dina Boluarte on Friday, while several hundred tourists were left stranded near Machu Picchu.

Civil unrest since the ouster of Boluarte's predecessor, Pedro Castillo, in early December has left 45 people dead and prompted the government to impose a state of emergency in violence-hit areas.

On Friday, security forces fired tear gas at demonstrators using slingshots in the flashpoint southern city of Arequipa.

Crowds tried for a second consecutive day to invade an airport runway that has been closed and put under the guard of security forces.

A mob burned down a district police station and set fire to a customs post in Desaguadero, a southern town on the border with Bolivia, local television reported.

Clashes also erupted in the northern region of La Libertad, despite a plea by Boluarte for calm.

In the capital Lima, thousands of protesters branded Boluarte a "murderer" and chanted "This democracy is not a democracy!" as they took to the streets again.

"We want Dina's resignation. If she doesn't resign, the people will not be at peace," said Olga Mamani, 50.

The airport in the popular tourist destination of Cusco reopened, prompting travelers to queue up for flights.

But rail services to the famed Machu Picchu remained suspended, leaving at least 300 people stranded in the town closest to the Inca citadel pleading to be evacuated.

"We're uncertain as to whether a train is going to come to pick us up," Alem Lopez, a visitor from Chile, told AFP.

In December, around 200 stranded tourists were flown out of the area by helicopter.

The protesters are trying to keep up pressure on the government, defying a state of emergency that now covers almost one-third of the country.

The violence has left 44 civilians and one police officer dead.

Urban-rural divide

On Thursday, thousands of people marched through the capital Lima in a large anti-government rally punctuated by clashes with police.

"Dina listen, the people disown you," they chanted, while others called for the president to be assassinated.

Castillo, a former rural school teacher, was removed from office and arrested on December 7 after attempting to dissolve the country's legislature and rule by decree, amid multiple corruption investigations.

The crisis also reflects the huge gap between the capital and the rural provinces, which supported Castillo and saw his election as revenge for Lima's contempt.

Rural villagers saw Castillo, who hails from the Andean region of Peru and has Indigenous roots, as one of their own running the country.

Boluarte, who was Castillo's vice president, succeeded him, but even though she is from the same left-wing party, Castillo supporters rejected her, even calling her a "traitor."

Boluarte appealed for dialogue in a message broadcast on state television.

"I will not tire" of seeking peaceful ways to move the country forward, she said late Thursday, adding that the "acts of violence generated throughout December and now in January will not go unpunished."

But her words fell on deaf ears.

"This government does not represent us," said Ricardo Mamani, 47, who said he traveled more than 40 hours to take part in the march in Lima.

"We're demanding once and for all that this lady (Boluarte) step aside so that the people are at peace," he said.

Mamani, who wore black to mourn those killed in the demonstrations, urged international human rights organizations to intervene.

"There's no one to defend us," he said.

(Source: AFP)

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