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Protests move through Peru’s capital, greeted by tear gas and smoke

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Thousands of demonstrators demanding the ouster of President Dina Boluarte streamed into the Peruvian capital, clashing with police who fired tear gas. Many came from remote areas, where dozens died in unrest who has gripped the country since the first Peruvian leader from a rural Andean background was dismissed from his post last month.

The protests were marked by the worst political violence in Peru for more than two decades and highlighted deep divisions between the country’s urban elite, largely concentrated in Lima, and poor rural areas. Former President Pedro Castillo is in custody and is expected to stand trial for rebellion since being impeached after a failed attempt to dissolve Congress.

Protesters were expected to take to the streets of downtown Lima again on Friday, although the city was quiet in the morning, with less movement in the center of the capital than normal for a weekday.

Thursday was fairly calm, but punctuated by scuffles and tear gas. The government has called on everyone who can to work from home. After sunset the clashes escalated and late in the night a major fire broke out in a building near the historic Plaza San Martin, although no connection to the protests was immediately clear .

Firefighters managed to extinguish the blaze early Friday morning, authorities said, noting that the cause of the blaze was still unknown. The old building housed 28 people, all of whom were forced to evacuate amid the risk of collapse.

Anger at Boluarte was the common thread on Thursday as protesters chanted calls for his resignation and street vendors sold T-shirts saying: “Out, Dina Boluarte”, “Dina murderer, Peru repudiates you” and ” New elections, let them all go. ”

Peru’s mediator said at least 13 civilians and four police officers were injured during protests in Lima on Thursday. A total of 22 police officers and 16 civilians were injured across the country on Thursday, Interior Minister Vicente Romero Fernández said.

Protesters blamed Boluarte for the violence. “Our God says you will not kill your neighbour. Dina Boluarte kills, she makes brothers fight,” said Paulina Consac as she carried a large Bible during a march through downtown Lima with more than 2,000 protesters from Cusco.

Many Lima residents also joined today’s protests, with a strong presence of students and union members.

“We are at a breaking point between dictatorship and democracy,” said Pedro Mamani, a student at the National University of San Marcos, where protesters who turned out for the protest were being housed.

The university was surrounded by police, who also deployed at key points in downtown Lima’s historic district – 11,800 officers in total, according to Victor Zanabria, Lima’s police chief.

Boluarte was defiant Thursday night in a televised speech alongside senior government officials in which she thanked police for controlling “violent protests” and vowed to prosecute those responsible for the violence. Boluarte said she supports a plan to hold presidential and congressional elections in 2024, two years ahead of schedule.

The president also blamed the protesters for “having no kind of social agenda that the country needs”, accused them of “wanting to violate the rule of law” and raised questions about their funding.

For much of the day, protests played out like a game of cat and mouse, with protesters, some of whom threw rocks at law enforcement, trying to break through police lines and officers responded with volleys of tear gas that scared protesters away, using vinegar-soaked rags to dull the sting to eyes and skin.

By early afternoon, protests had turned main roads into large pedestrian zones in downtown Lima.

The frustration was visible among the demonstrators, who had hoped to march to the Miraflores district, an emblematic district of the economic elite eight kilometers from the city center.

“We are surrounded,” said Sofia López, 42, as she sat on a bench outside the country’s Supreme Court. “We tried to go through many places and we end up going around in circles.” Lopez came from Carabayllo, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) north of the capital.

In a park in Miraflores, a large police presence separated anti-government protesters from a small group of protesters expressing support for law enforcement. Police also fired tear gas there to disperse protesters.

By bringing the protest to Lima, protesters hoped to lend new weight to the movement that began when Boluarte 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. .

Demonstrations have also taken place elsewhere and video posted on social media showed protesters attempting to storm the airport in the south of Arequipa, Peru’s second-largest city. They were blocked by police and one person was killed in the ensuing clashes, Peru’s mediator said.

It was one of three airports that came under attack from protesters on Thursday, Boluarte said, adding it was not “a mere coincidence” that they were stormed on the same day.

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

“I feel furious,” said Verónica Paucar, 56, coughing from tear gas. “We will go home quietly. Paucar is a resident of Lima whose parents are originally from Cusco.

The clashes escalated after dark and late Thursday night a raging blaze erupted in an old building near the protests taking place in Plaza San Martín in downtown Lima, but its relationship to the protests n was not immediately clear. Footage showed people rushing to get their belongings out of the building which was near several government offices.

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 name given to a massive mobilization in 2000, when thousands of Peruvians took to the streets against the autocratic government of Alberto Fujimori, who resigned months later.

But there are key differences between these protests and the protests this week.

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

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

The latest protests have largely been grassroots efforts with no clear direction, a dynamic that was clear on Thursday as protesters often appeared lost and unsure of where to go next as their path was continually blocked by law enforcement.

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.

Protesters said Thursday they would not be intimidated.

“It doesn’t end today, it won’t end tomorrow, but only when we achieve our goals,” David Lozada, 61, said as he watched a line of police wearing helmets and blocking shields. the protesters. leave downtown Lima. “I don’t know what they think, do they want to start a civil war?”

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This story has been updated to correct the former president’s first name to Pedro, not Eduardo.

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Associated Press journalist Mauricio Muñoz contributed.

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