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The Peruvian Andes “descended” on the capital to demand the resignation of the chief

LIMA, Peru (AP) — People flocked to Peru’s coastal capital, many from remote Andean regions, for a protest Thursday against President Dina Boluarte and in support of her predecessor, whose ouster last month sparked deadly unrest and plunged the nation into political chaos.

There was a tense calm in the streets of Lima on Thursday morning ahead of the protest as supporters of former President Pedro Castillo hope to open a new chapter in the week-long movement to demand Boluarte’s resignation, the dissolution of Congress, immediate elections and structural change. in the country. Castillo, Peru’s first leader from a rural Andean background, was impeached after a failed attempt to dissolve Congress.

“We have delinquent ministers, murdering presidents and we live like animals amidst so much wealth that they rob us every day,” said Samuel Acero, a farmer who heads the city’s regional protest committee. southeast of Cusco. as he strolled through downtown Lima on Thursday morning. “We want Dina Boluarte to leave, she lied to us.”

Protests so far have taken place mainly in Peru’s southern Andes, with 53 people dead amid the unrest, the vast majority killed in clashes with security forces.

“We are at a breaking point between dictatorship and democracy,” said Pedro Mamani, a student at the National University of San Marcos. There are students housing protesters who traveled to the Peruvian capital for the protest commonly referred to as the ‘Lima takeover’.

The university was surrounded by police, who also gathered at several key points in the historic district of downtown Lima.

A total of 11,800 police officers will be deployed in Lima, local police chief Victor Zanabria told local media. He played down the size of the protests, saying he expected around 2,000 people to attend.

The protests that erupted last month and the ensuing clashes with security forces constitute the worst political violence that Peru has seen in more than two decades and have highlighted the deep divisions that exist in the country between the urban elite largely concentrated in Lima and the poor rural areas, where citizens often feel relegated.

“In my own country, the voices of the Andes, the voices of the majority have been silenced,” Florencia Fernández, a lawyer who lives in Cusco, said Wednesday ahead of the protest. “We had to go to this aggressive city, this centralizing city, and we say the Andes came down.”

By bringing the protest to Lima, protesters hope to give new weight to the movement that began when Boluarte, who was the vice president, was sworn in on Dec. 7 to replace Castillo.

“When there are tragedies, bloodbaths outside the capital, it does not have the same political relevance in the public agenda as if they took place in the capital,” said Alonso Cárdenas, Professor of Public Policy at Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University in Lima. “The leaders have understood this and say, they can massacre us in Cusco, in Puno, and nothing happens, we have to take the demonstration to Lima,” Cárdenas added, citing two cities that have seen protest violence.

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

“Lima, which had not joined the protests at all during the first phase in December, decided to join after the Juliaca massacre,” said Omar Coronel, professor of political science at the Catholic University of Peru, referring to the 18 people killed. in this southern city on January 9.

Protesters plan to march from downtown Lima on Thursday to the Miraflores district, one of the emblematic neighborhoods of the country’s economic elite.

The government called on protesters to be peaceful.

“We know they want to take control of Lima,” Boluarte said this week. “I call on them to take back Lima, yes, but in peace” and added that she would “wait for them at Government House to be able to talk about their social agendas”.

Boluarte said she supports a plan to push back until 2024 the presidential and congressional elections originally scheduled for 2026.

Many protesters say no dialogue is possible with a government they believe has unleashed so much violence against its citizens.

As protesters gathered in Lima, further violence erupted in southern Peru.

In the town of Macusani on Wednesday, protesters set fire to the police station and judicial duties after two people were killed and another seriously injured by gunfire amid anti-government protests.

Officers had to escape from the police station which the mob burned in a helicopter, police said. Macusani, about 160 kilometers from the town of Juliaca near Lake Titicaca, is the capital of the province of Carabaya,

Activists dubbed Thursday’s protest in Lima as the Cuatro Suyos march, a reference to the four cardinal points of the Inca Empire. It is also the same name that was given to another massive mobilization that took place in 2000, when thousands of Peruvians took to the streets against the autocratic government of Alberto Fujimori, who resigned months later.

There are several key differences between these protests and the protests this week.

“In 2000, the people protested against an already consolidated regime in power,” Cardenas said. “In this case, they are standing up to a government that has only been in power for a month and is incredibly fragile.”

Another distinction is that the 2000 protests had a centralized leadership and were led by political parties. “Now what we have is something much more fragmented,” Coronel said.

The protests that have engulfed much of Peru over the past month have largely been grassroots efforts with no clear direction.

“We have never seen a mobilization of this magnitude, there is already a thought installed in the peripheries that it is necessary, urgent to transform everything,” said Gustavo Montoya, historian at the National University of San Marcos. “I have the feeling that we are witnessing a historic change.”

The protests have grown so large that protesters are unlikely to be happy with Boluarte’s resignation and are now demanding more fundamental structural reform.

The protests emerged “in areas that have been consistently treated as second-class citizens,” Montoya said. “I think it will only grow.”

Analysts warn that failure to listen to protesters’ demands could have tragic consequences.

“We have to start thinking about what we want to do with Peru, otherwise everything could explode,” Cardenas said.

———-

Associated Press journalist Mauricio Muñoz contributed.

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