Peruvian police use tear gas to prevent protesters from demonstrating

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Police fired tear gas to try to subdue the thousands of protesters who poured into the Peruvian capital Thursday, many from the Andean hinterland, demanding the ouster of President Dina Pouluart and the return of her predecessor to power. Last month’s deportation unleashed deadly unrest and threw the nation into political chaos.

The demonstrators gathered in the historic center of Lima and clashed with security forces, who prevented them from reaching key government buildings, including the Congress, as well as the commercial and residential areas of the capital.

Along with Boulwart’s resignation, supporters of former President Pedro Castillo were calling for the dissolution of Congress and immediate elections. Castillo, Peru’s first leader from a rural Andean background, was impeached after a failed attempt to dissolve Congress.

For much of the day, the protests played out like a game of cat and mouse, as protesters, some of whom threw rocks at law enforcement, attempted to cross police lines and officers responded with volleys of tear gas that sent protesters fleeing, using a rag dipped in vinegar. To relieve the sting of their eyes and skin.

“We’re trapped,” said Sofia Lopez, 42, as she sat on a bench outside the nation’s supreme court. “We tried to go through so many places and ended up in circles.”

Late Thursday night, firefighters were working to put out a raging inferno that had broken out in an old building near the protests that were taking place in San Martin Square in downtown Lima, but its connection to the demonstrations was not immediately clear. Pictures showed people rushing to remove their belongings from the building, which is close to several government offices.

As the sun set, the streets of downtown Lima were ablaze as protesters threw rocks at police officers who fired so much tear gas it was hard to see.

“I feel angry,” said Veronica Paucar, 56, as she coughed up tear gas. “We will return safely.”

There was palpable frustration among protesters who had hoped to march into Miraflores, a nominal neighborhood for the economic elite.

In Miraflores Park, a large police presence separated anti-government protesters from a small group of demonstrators who expressed support for law enforcement. Police fired tear gas there to disperse the demonstrators.

Boulwart was defiant Thursday night in a televised address alongside senior government officials in which she thanked the police for controlling “violent protests” and vowed to prosecute those responsible for the violence.

The president also criticized the protests for “lack of any kind of social agenda that the country needs,” accusing them of “wanting to break the rule of law” and raising questions about their financing.

Interior Minister Vicente Romero Fernandez said that 22 police officers and 16 civilians were injured Thursday across the country.

Peru’s ombudsman said at least 13 civilians and four police officers were injured in Thursday’s Lima protests.

Until recently, the protests were mainly in the southern Andes mountains of Peru, where a total of 55 people were killed in the unrest, most of them in clashes with security forces.

Anger at Boluarte was the common denominator Thursday as protesters chanted calls for her resignation and street vendors promoted T-shirts saying: “Out, Dina Boluarte,” “Dina killer, Peru disowns you,” and “New elections, let them all leave.”

Our Lord says don’t kill your neighbor. Dina Poluarte kills, she makes brothers fight,” said Paulina Konsac, holding a large Bible as she walked through downtown Lima with more than 2,000 Cusco protesters.

By early afternoon, protesters had turned major thoroughfares into large pedestrian zones in downtown Lima.

“We are on the verge of a breakdown between dictatorship and democracy,” said Pedro Mamani, a student at the National University of San Marcos, where demonstrators who traveled to protest were being housed.

The university was surrounded by police officers, who were also deployed at key points in Lima’s historic city center — 11,800 officers in all, according to Victor Zanabria, commander of the Lima police force.

Protests were also held elsewhere and videos posted on social media showed protesters trying to storm the airport in the south of Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city. The Peruvian Ombudsman said the police stopped them and one person was killed in the ensuing clashes.

This was one of three airports attacked by protesters on Thursday, Boulwart said, adding that it was not “a coincidence”, as it was stormed the same day.

The protests, which erupted last month, amounted to the worst political violence in more than two decades, and highlighted deep divisions between an urban elite largely concentrated in Lima and impoverished rural areas.

By bringing the protest to Lima, the demonstrators hoped to give new weight to the movement that began when Boulwart was sworn in on December 7 to replace Castillo.

“When there are tragedies, bloodbaths outside the capital do not have the same political significance on the public agenda than if they happened in the capital,” said Alonso Cárdenas, a professor of public policy at the University of Antonio Ruiz de Montoya in Lima. .

The concentration of protesters in Lima also reflects how the capital has begun to see more anti-government demonstrations in recent days.

Bulwart said she supports a plan to hold presidential and congressional elections in 2024, two years earlier than originally planned.

Activists dubbed Thursday’s demonstration in Lima the Cuatro Suyos March, a reference to the four cardinal points of the Inca Empire. It is also the name given to the massive mobilization of 2000, when thousands of Peruvians took to the streets against the authoritarian government of Alberto Fujimori, who resigned months later.

But there are fundamental differences between those demonstrations and this week’s protests.

“In 2000, people protested against a regime that was already firmly entrenched in power,” Cardenas said. “In this case, they stand up to a government that has only been in power for a month and is incredibly fragile.”

The 2000 protests had a central leadership and were led by political parties.

The recent protests have largely been grassroots efforts without clear leadership, a dynamic that was evident Thursday as protesters often seemed lost and didn’t know where to go next as their path was constantly blocked by law enforcement.

The protests have grown to such an extent that it is unlikely that the demonstrators will be satisfied with Boulwart’s resignation and are now calling for more fundamental structural reform.

On Thursday, demonstrators said they would not be complacent.

David Lozada, 61, said as he looked at a line of police officers wearing helmets and carrying shields blocking protesters from leaving downtown Lima. “I don’t know what they’re thinking, do they want to start a civil war?”


Associated Press journalist Mauricio Muñoz contributed.

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