Peru’s interim president resigns after massive protests

Peru’s interim president, Manuel Merino, resigned on Sunday, less than a week into his new government, after protests demanding his removal left two dead and dozens injured and plunged the country into yet another political crisis.

“I want to let the whole country know that I am resigning,” Merino said in a television address, a day after police cracked down on protesters in Peru, leaving at least two people dead.

Merino took over the presidency on Tuesday after the opposition-dominated Congress voted to remove his predecessor, Martin Vizcarra, because of bribes, which he denies.

The departure came after a night of unrest in which dozens of protesters were injured by blunt force, tear gas or projectiles which, according to the rights groups, came mainly from the police, who used excessive force to quell the protests.

A network of human rights groups reported that 112 people had been injured and that 41 others were unknown. Health officials said the dead included Jack Pintado, 22, who was shot 11 times, including in the head, and Jordan Sotelo, 24, who was hit four times in the chest near his heart.

“Two young people were sacrificed absurdly, stupidly, unfairly by the police,” Peruvian author and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa said in a recorded video shared on Twitter. “This repression – which is against the whole of Peru – must be stopped.”

Meanwhile, a resurgence of political leaders urged Merino to leave, with at least 13 of his 19 ministers rescuing his newly formed government. The president of the Congress called on Merino to resign immediately and said that the legislators would vote to reject him if he refused.

“Above all, we should put the lives of the Peruvian people,” said Luis Valdez, the current congressman, who plans to resign.

From rice grower to temporary leader

Merino, a well-known politician and rice grower, became Peru’s leader on Tuesday after a fantastic congressional vote to oust popular ex-president Martin Vizcarra. As congressman, Merino was next in Iine before the presidency when Vizcarra was removed. But protesters claim the move was an illegal parliamentary coup and refused to recognize him.

“We want the voice of the people to be heard,” protester Fernando Ramirez said Saturday night as he struck a spoon against a pot during a protest.

>> Read more about Peru’s political crisis

Congress ousted Vizcarra with a 19th-century clause enabling the powerful legislature to remove a president for “permanent moral incapacity.” Lawmakers accused Vizcarra of mishandling the pandemic, alleging unproven allegations that he took over $ 630,000 in bribes in exchange for two construction contracts while he was governor of a small province in southern Peru several years ago.

Prosecutors are investigating the allegations but Vizcarra has not been charged. A judge prevented him from leaving the country for 18 months on Friday.

The ex-president denied the violence on Twitter on Sunday and blamed what he called an “illegal and illegal government” for the bloodshed.

“This country will not allow the deaths of these brave youths to go unpunished,” Vizcarra wrote.

The protests that shook Peru differ from what has been seen in recent years and are largely driven by young people who are typically apathetic to the country’s infamous turbulent policies. Protesters are outraged at the congress to stage what they consider to be an illegal coup as well as who Merino had chosen to lead his incipient government.

His prime minister, Ántero Flores-Aráoz, was a former defense secretary who resigned in 2009 after police clashes with civilian protesters in the Amazon left 34 dead.

Alberto Vergara, a political analyst at the University of Peru in the Pacific, had described the new cabinet as “old, bitter, outdated, closed to the world.”

In remarks before Saturday’s upheaval, Merino denied that the protests were against him and told a local radio station that young people were demonstrating against unemployment and could not complete their studies due to the pandemic.

Peru has the world’s highest per capita mortality rate Covid-19 and has seen one of Latin America’s worst economic contractions.

According to the National Association of Journalists, there were 35 attacks on members of the media between Monday and Thursday, almost all by police. Rights groups have also documented excessive force against protesters, the deployment of tear gas near homes and hospitals and the holding of demonstrations.

( Jowharwith AFP, AP and REUTERS)