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Peru president urges congress to move elections forward

#Peru #president #urges #congress #move #elections

Peruvian President Dina Boluarte made a renewed appeal Sunday for congress to hold early elections as a way to end weeks of deadly protests, warning that otherwise she will seek constitutional reform to make a vote happen.

The South American country has been embroiled in a political crisis with near-daily street protests since December 7, when then-president Pedro Castillo was arrested after attempting to dissolve Congress and rule by decree.

In seven weeks of demonstrations, 48 people — including one police officer — have been killed in clashes between security forces and protesters, according to the Ombudsman’s Office of Peru.

The unrest is coming mainly from poor, rural Indigenous people from southern Peru who had identified Castillo — Indigenous and from that same region — as one of their own who would fight to end poverty, racism and inequality from which they suffer.

Last month lawmakers moved up elections due in 2026 to April 2024, but as protests show no sign of abating, Boluarte now wants them held this year — a call that Congress rejected on Saturday.

“Vote for Peru, for the country, by moving the elections up to 2023,” the president said in an address to the nation. “Tomorrow you have a chance to win the country’s trust.”

She added that if lawmakers refuse, she will propose a constitutional reform so that a first round of elections will be held in October and a runoff in December.

The legislature is scheduled to convene Monday to discuss the election timetable.

On Saturday, hooded protesters wielding shields, stones and pieces of cement pried from public buildings fought with police in a fog of tear gas as Lima became the scene of scuffles and the city’s first death from the protests was recorded.

Demanding that Boluarte resign and call fresh elections, Castillo supporters have blocked highways — causing shortages of food, fuel and other basic supplies. 

The government said it will soon deploy police and soldiers to clear the roadblocks.

Lawmakers had agreed last month to bring forward elections from 2026 to April 2024.

But in the face of relentless protests, Boluarte on Friday urged Congress to move the vote up further.

However, at a plenary session that ended early Saturday, Congress rejected the proposal, with 45 votes in favor, 65 against and two abstentions.

-Not ‘clinging to power’ –

Demonstrators are calling for immediate elections, as well as Boluarte’s removal, the dissolution of Congress and a new constitution.

“Nobody has any interest in clinging to power,” Boluarte insisted on Friday. “If I am here it is because I fulfilled my constitutional responsibility.”

As Castillo’s vice president, Boluarte was constitutionally mandated to replace him after he was impeached by Congress and arrested.

The US State Department on Friday urged dialogue and restraint by all parties.

Apart from those who have died in protests, an additional 10 civilians, including two babies, died when they were unable to get medical treatment or medicine due to roadblocks, the ombudsman’s office said.

In southern regions, roadblocks have resulted in widespread shortages.

Some of the worst violence and highest death tolls have come when protesters tried to storm airports in the south.

Southern regions with large Indigenous populations have been the epicenter of the protest movement that has affected Peru’s vital tourism industry.

As well as blocking dozens of roads and forcing the temporary closure of several airports, protesters have placed rocks on the train tracks that act as the only transport access to Machu Picchu, the former Inca citadel and jewel of Peruvian tourism.

Hundreds of tourists were stranded at the archeological ruins, with many eventually evacuated by helicopter. 

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