More than two dozen people have been wounded in mass protests in Peru, as thousands have taken to the streets in recent days to protest against the dismissal of President Martin Vizcarra.
Citing police and rights groups, Reuters news agency reported that at least 27 people, including 11 police officers, were hurt in clashes between police and protesters, who have held mass rallies in the capital, Lima, and across the country.
Vizcarra was removed from office by Peru’s Congress on Monday in an impeachment trial over allegations he accepted bribes – accusations he denies.
The protests are among the largest in Peru in decades and have heaped pressure on the new government of President Manuel Merino, who swore in a new cabinet on Thursday and has called for calm in the streets.
“Merino, listen up, the people reject you,” crowds chanted this week.
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets during a protest in Lima, the capital, this week [Sebastian Castaneda/Reuters]One of the protesters, 22-year-old Lizbeth Obregon, said she cried while watching Vizcarra’s overthrow with her family. “My dad said it’s always been like that,” she said. “That the nation has been taken over by rats.”
Prosecutors are investigating whether Vizcarra received more than $630,000 while serving as governor of a small province in the country’s south in exchange for two construction projects. He has denied the allegations.
On Friday, a judge barred the popular leader from leaving Peru for 18 months as the investigation continues.
Rights groups have questioned the legality of Vizcarra’s removal, with Human Rights Watch (HRW) saying this week that Congress exerted “questionable legal authority” to remove him.
“The allegations against Vizcarra should be investigated, but the legality of his ousting is highly dubious and seems driven by legislators’ own interests in evading accountability,” Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at HRW, said in a statement on Thursday.
Martin Vizcarra has denied allegations that he accepted bribes [File: Peruvian Presidency/Handout via Reuters]“Leaders in the Americas should closely monitor decisions by Merino and Congress. There is every reason to suspect that they will use Vizcarra’s ousting to further undermine the rule of law.”
Peru’s national coordinator for human rights, a coalition of civil society groups, on Thursday called on law enforcement agencies to respect people’s right to protest.
That night, police used tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters, some of whom threw rocks at police and destroyed store windows and cash machines.
Interior Minister Gaston Rodriguez said police only fired tear gas and rubber bullets when a protest had got out of hand.
The mainly young protesters have promised to remain on the streets despite the police response, however. “Merino, you messed with the wrong generation,” several signs read at one of this week’s rallies.
Abigail Calluque, 20, held a sign at a protest on Thursday that read, “coup d’etat”.
“I’m so tired of this situation,” she said. “They do whatever they want and we’ve always stayed quiet. No more.”