Peru president urges congress to move elections forward
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Peru president urges congress to move elections forward

Demonstrators demand 'justice' from the government of President Dina Boluarte, whom they blame for the deaths in the days of protests
Demonstrators demand 'justice' from the government of President Dina Boluarte, whom they blame for the deaths in the days of protests

LIMA - 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."

Boluarte's urging comes after a Saturday plenary session, during which Congress rejected the proposal to move up the election -- with 45 votes in favor, 65 against and two abstentions.

She said Sunday 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 again on Monday from 10:00 am (1500 GMT) to discuss the election timetable.

"I urge parliamentarians to reflect responsibly on the decision to be made," tweeted legislature leader Jose Williams, a right-wing retired military general who is the first in the line of succession if the president resigns.

According to a survey by the Institute of Peruvian Studies, 73 percent of Peruvians are calling for elections this year and 89 percent disapprove of the performance of Congress.

- First death in Lima -

Monday's reconvening of Congress will coincide with the wake of Victor Santisteban, 55, a demonstrator who died Saturday after receiving blunt force trauma to his head according to a medical report.

Santisteban is the first recorded death from the protests in Peru's capital Lima since nationwide demonstrations kicked off in December -- which have seen Castillo supporters blocking highways, causing shortages of food, fuel and other basic supplies.

According to the Ombudsman's Office, Saturday's protest in Lima saw at least seven others were wounded and hospitalised, after police deployed tear gas bombs against protesters flinging stones and cement pieces.

Unionist Geronimo Lopez, leader of the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers, said protesters would "not cease their struggle" if Boluarte does not step down.

He called for a national march for Tuesday afternoon under the slogan "Dina resigns now."

But Boluarte has insisted that "nobody has any interest in clinging to power".

"If I am here it is because I fulfilled my constitutional responsibility," she said Friday.

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

-Not 'clinging to power' -

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.

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.

Analyst Giovanna Penaflor from research firm Imasen told AFP the situation is going to get worse.

"Today we are (seeing) an unstoppable number of deaths related to political issues and this cannot continue like this," Penaflor said.

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