Peru president faces calls to resign after protesters killed

Peru president faces calls to resign after protesters killed

Peruvian interim President Manuel Merino is under growing pressure to resign after half his new cabinet stepped down following the deaths of two people in protests over the sudden removal of his predecessor.

Thousands have taken to the streets in days of protests against Merino following the removal of his predecessor, Martin Vizcarra, who was impeached on corruption allegations on Monday, accusations he denies.

“I ask Mr Merino to evaluate his immediate resignation,” Congress head Luis Valdez said in a statement to Channel N television.

Lawmakers will meet in an emergency session at 8am (13:00 GMT), a statement on Congress’ Twitter account said.

The ultimatum came after news of the death of two protesters during a massive peaceful march in the capital Lima, which was violently repressed by police firing shotgun pellets and tear gas.

The Ombudsman’s Office said the first fatality, a 25-year-old man, was killed by pellet shots to the head and face.

The health ministry said 94 people were hospitalised with injuries sustained during the protests.

‘Chaos and anarchy’

The police tactics have been criticised by the UN and rights organisations such as Amnesty International since the protests began on Tuesday.

Nine of the 18 ministers in Merino’s cabinet announced their resignation after the police crackdown.

Prime Minister Antero Flores-Araoz told reporters that Vizcarra’s removal had been legal. He said Merino had no intention of caving to demands from protesters that he resign.

“This was a constitutional change,” Flores-Araoz said. “We ask people for understanding. We don’t want to descend into chaos and anarchy.”

Translation: “The death of the two young people in the centre of Lima must not go unpunished. The Ombudsman’s Office demands the country’s political forces provide an immediate democratic solution. The judicial authorities must carry out the investigations and punish those responsible.”

Tear gas

Thousands took to the streets on Saturday in opposition to Merino, the former Congress speaker who assumed office on Tuesday as Peru’s third president in four years.

The mostly young protesters gathered in various cities to oppose what they call a parliamentary coup against Vizcarra.

The largest march in Lima attracted thousands of people with police again using tear gas fired from helicopters to disperse protesters who were threatening to march towards the Congress building.

They yelled slogans and carried signs reading “Merino, you are not my president” and “Merino impostor”.

Municipal authorities in Lima turned off the public lighting in Plaza San Martin, leaving the crowd gathered there in darkness.

When he took office on Tuesday, Merino said he would respect the time set for the next general elections, April 11, 2021, and would leave power on July 28, 2021, the day when Vizcarra’s mandate was to end.

Vizcarra had broad popular support since succeeding Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, the former Wall Street banker who was forced to resign under threat of impeachment over corruption allegations in 2018.

Congress impeached and dismissed Vizcarra on Monday over allegations he took kickbacks from developers when he was governor of the Moquegua region in 2014, charges he denies.

Demonstrators clash with police during a protest against the decision to remove Vizcarra [Sebastian Castaneda/Reuters]