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Peruvian protesters gassed after president calls for truce

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LIMA, Peru — Thousands of protesters took to the streets of the Peruvian capital and were met by volleys of tear gas and pellets amid clashes with security forces just hours after President Dina Boluarte called for a “truce” in nearly two months of protests.

Tuesday’s anti-government protest was the largest – and most violent – since last Thursday, when large groups of people, many from remote Andean regions, descended on the capital to demand Boluarte’s resignation, immediate elections and the dissolution of Congress.

“We can’t have a truce when she’s not telling the truth,” Blanca España Mesa, 48, said of the Peruvian president. Although her eyes were watering from the tear gas, España Mesa said she was “happy because a lot of people came today. It is as if people had woken up.

Prior to last week, most of the major anti-government protests following the ousting of President Pedro Castillo took place in remote parts of Peru, largely in the south of the country, revealing a deep division among residents of the capital and the long-neglected countryside.

The crisis that sparked the worst political violence in Peru in more than two decades began when Castillo, Peru’s first leader from a rural Andean background, tried to short-circuit his fledgling administration’s third impeachment process by ordering the dissolution of Congress on December 7. impeached him instead, the national police arrested him before he could find refuge, and Boluarte, who was his vice-president, was sworn in.

Since then, 56 people have died amid unrest involving Castillo’s supporters, 45 of whom have died in direct clashes with security forces, according to Peru’s mediator. None of the deaths occurred in Lima.

On Tuesday, the police fired tear gas in quick succession, blocking the passage of the demonstrators, who seemed more organized than before. The smell of tear gas permeated the air and could be smelled even a block away as people leaving work suddenly had to cover their faces to try to lessen the sting.

“Murderers,” shouted protesters, some of whom threw stones at police.

Even after most protesters had left, police continued to fire tear gas to disperse small groups of people in a plaza outside the country’s Supreme Court.

“I have the right to protest in this country,” said Emiliano Merino, 60, as he was treated by volunteer paramedics after pellets grazed his arms.

Boluarte had previously called for a truce and blamed protesters for the political violence that engulfed the country, telling a news conference that illegal miners, drug dealers and smugglers were forming a ‘paramilitary force’ to seek out the chaos for political ends. She said numerous roadblocks across the country and damage to infrastructure have cost the country more than $1 billion in lost production.

She suggested that the protesters who died from gunshot wounds were shot by other protesters, saying investigations will show their wounds are inconsistent with the weapons the officers carry. And meanwhile, some 90 police officers are hospitalized with bruises, she said: “What about their human rights?” asked the president.

The government presented no evidence that any of the injured police officers had been hit by gunfire.

Human rights advocates say they are appalled at the lack of international outcry from the regional and global community and call for condemnation of the state violence unleashed since Castillo’s impeachment.

Jennie Dador, executive secretary of Peru’s national human rights coordinator, said the lack of international response makes it seem like “we are alone”.

“None of the states in the region have done anything concrete,” she said.

Boluarte was notably absent from a meeting of regional leaders on Tuesday in the Argentine capital, where most avoided mentioning civilian deaths in Peru.

Human rights activists have acknowledged acts of violence by some protesters – including attempts to take over airports and burn down police stations – but say the protests have been largely peaceful.

Some of the leaders at the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit blamed the Peruvian government for the violence.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric said there was “an urgent need for change in Peru because the result of the path of violence and repression is unacceptable”. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a staunch supporter of Castillo, demanded an “end to repression”.

At the summit’s closing ceremony, Argentinian President Alberto Fernández called for an end to “street violence and institutional violence that has cost so many lives” in Peru.

“The international community has expressed concern, but I really think they could be more forceful,” said César Muñoz, associate Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

After feverish negotiations behind closed doors in Buenos Aires in the afternoon, the situation in Peru was left out of the summit’s closing documents. “Peru is a thorny issue,” but pressure from some leaders has led to last-minute negotiations, an Argentine foreign ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity for lack of authority to say. discuss politics.

“Peru has managed to go unnoticed,” said Marina Navarro, Executive Director of Amnesty International Peru. “Given the seriousness of the situation, with this number of people dead, we don’t see as much information about it as there could be.”

Associated Press writers Franklin Briceño in Lima and Almudena Calatrava in Buenos Aires, Argentina contributed to this report.

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