Despite tear gas, protesters in Peru vow to continue demonstrating

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Peru’s capital Friday and were met with volleys of tear gas for a second day in a row, as demonstrators made clear they would continue mobilizing to demand the resignation of President Dina Bolwarte.

Many of the protesters in Lima had come from remote areas of the Andes, where dozens have died amid unrest that has gripped large parts of the country since Pedro Castillo, Peru’s first rural Andean leader, was impeached and jailed after tried to dissolve Congress last month.

“Dina, resign already! What do you want from our Peru? said Jose Luis Ayma Cuentas, 29, who traveled about 20 hours to reach the country’s capital from the southern region of Puno, which has been the scene of the deadliest state violence in the past month. “We’re staying until she resigns, until Congress is dissolved, until there are new elections, otherwise we’re not going anywhere.”

Until recently, the protests were mainly in Peru’s southern region, with a total of 55 people killed and 700 injured in the unrest, mostly in clashes with security forces.

Protesters now want Lima, home to about a third of Peru’s 34 million people, to be the focal point of demonstrations that began when Bolwarte, then vice president, was sworn in on Dec. 7 to replace Castillo. The protests sparked the country’s worst political violence in more than two decades.

At the start of Friday’s protests, demonstrators appeared more organized than the day before and took over key thoroughfares in central Lima, waving flags and chanting “The blood shed will never be forgotten,” “The people don’t give up,” and other slogans.

The police appeared more combative than the previous day and, after observing the protesters who were blocked in the streets in the center, began to fire tear gas.

The firing of tear gas also seemed more indiscriminate. A group of protesters who had been sitting undisturbed in a square outside the Supreme Court suddenly had to start running as approaching police fired tear gas that filled the area with smoke and a pungent smell permeated the air.

“I’m outraged, I’m furious,” said Madai Pardo Quintana, 48, as she offered water mixed with baking soda to protesters to wash their eyes from the tear gas. “They want us to respect them, but if they set an example and respected us, we would respect them more too.”

Pardo came to Lima to protest Bolhuarte from the central province of Chanchamayo and vowed to stay in the capital until the president agreed to resign.

Anger at law enforcement was constant throughout the march, as marchers shouted “murderers” as they passed lines of police wearing helmets and raising shields.

A few blocks away, Doris Pacori, 56, stood between police and protesters who were blocked from reaching Congress.

“They are servants of the corrupt, cowards to them but abusers of the people,” Pakori, who held a sign that read “Dina killer.”

As night fell, protesters clashed with police, while some demonstrators threw water bottles filled with rocks at officers.

Late Friday, Interior Minister Vicente Romero praised police actions during the protests, saying they were “very professional.”

Protesters were particularly angry with Bolwarte for her defiant speech Thursday night, in which she accused the protesters of inciting violence, vowed to prosecute the demonstrators and asked where they got their funding.

“You want to violate the rule of law, you want to generate chaos so that in that chaos and confusion you take power,” Boluarte said Thursday night.

“The lady is very cold, she has no feelings, she has no compassion for other people,” Pardo said.

Bolwarte said he supports a plan to hold new elections in 2024, two years ahead of schedule, but protesters unanimously say that is not fast enough, especially given all the deaths in recent weeks.

There were also protests and clashes with law enforcement in other parts of the country.

In Arequipa, Peru’s second city, police clashed with protesters who tried to storm the airport.

Also in southern Peru, the multinational Glencore decided to temporarily close its Antapaccay copper mine after protesters attacked the site.

Castillo, a political novice who lived in a two-story adobe house in the Andes mountains, scored a narrow victory in 2021 elections that shook Peru’s political establishment and exposed the deep divisions between residents of the capital and the long-neglected countryside.

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