Deadly protests in Peru close popular tourist hub airport
Lima — Weeks long protests that have killed dozens across Peru continued Thursday, with escalating tensions in the Andean city of Cusco prompting the government to preemptively close the tourist hub’s airport. Supporters of ousted President Pedro Castillo have marched and barricaded streets around the South American country demanding new elections and the removal of current leader Dina Boluarte.
The demonstrations have turned violent at times, and nearly 50 people have been killed in clashes with security forces, including a police officer who was burned alive in a vehicle, while hundreds more have been injured. Different officials have given different death tolls this week, but most Peruvian outlets said at least 47 people had died in the unrest.
Almost half of the victims died in clashes on Monday night in the southern Puno region, where 17 people were buried on Thursday.
Major flashpoints have occurred near Peru’s airports, which are guarded by security forces, after protesters stormed runways during an initial wave of uprisings in early December.
In Cusco, the gateway to Peru’s tourism crown jewel Machu Picchu, the main airport was suddenly closed on Thursday “as a precautionary measure,” Peru’s transport ministry announced on Twitter.
Train service between Cusco and the historic site has been suspended until further notice, the railway company said in a statement, citing security concerns.
Clashes broke out on Wednesday night in Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire, with protesters trying to enter the airport, while some set fire to a bus station, attacked shops and blocked train tracks with large rocks. Peru’s rights ombudsman said one person died and more than 50 people, including 19 police officers, were injured in the unrest, while police said they had arrested 11 people.
17 dead protesters were laid to rest Thursday in Juliaca, a town in the southern Puno region close to the Bolivian border.
Gathered in a circle around a red casket, relatives of one of the victims held placards that read: “Dina corrupt murderer” and “we are not terrorists, but citizens demanding justice.”
“It is painful to lose a member of your family to fight for your rights,” 48-year-old Fidel Huancollo, whose cousin had died, told AFP.
A 16-year-old protester, hospitalized since Monday, died Thursday in Juliaca, bringing the total number of civilians killed there to 18.
Also on Thursday, unions, left-wing parties and social collectives marched through Lima, the capital that has so far been largely spared violence, to denounce a “racist and classist… dictatorship.”
As well as demanding Boluarte’s resignation, protesters want Congress to be dissolved and a new body set up to rewrite the constitution – which was adopted in 1993 under the mandate of Alberto Fujimori. The former president is serving a 25-year prison sentence for crimes against humanity committed during his time in power.
The mass demonstrations erupted in early December after Castillo was ousted from office for attempting to dissolve Congress and rule by decree in an attempt to prevent an impeachment vote against him.
Roadblocks remain in 10 of Peru’s 25 departments, the transport inspector said.
Boluarte, 60, was Castillo’s vice president but took over when he was ousted on December 7.
Castillo, who was investigated in several fraud cases during his tenure, has been remanded in custody for 18 months, charged with sedition.
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