Peru braces for new rally in Lima despite state of emergency
People participate in a demonstration in Lima, Peru, January 4, 2023. © Angela Ponce, Reuters

Lima was bracing for a new rally against President Dina Boluarte on Monday as thousands of demonstrators began mobilizing in Peru's capital following weeks of deadly unrest.

Protesters from all over the country began heading to Lima over the weekend in a bid to maintain the pressure on authorities.

At least 42 people have died, according to Peru's human rights ombudsman, in five weeks of clashes between protesters and security forces.

Supporters of ousted president Pedro Castillo -- who was arrested and charged with rebellion amongst other offenses after trying last month to dissolve parliament and rule by decree -- have set up burning roadblocks, attempted to storm airports and staged mass rallies.

They are demanding Boluarte's resignation, the closure of Congress and fresh elections.

"We've decided to go to Lima," Julio Vilca, a protest leader from the southern Ilave province, told AFP, with protesters set to defy a state of emergency in the capital.

On Sunday some 3,000 protesters in Andahuaylas in southeastern Peru began boarding trucks and buses bound for the demonstration in Lima, RPP radio reported.

The government extended by 30 days a state of emergency from midnight Saturday for Lima, Cusco, Callao and Puno, authorizing the military to back up police actions to restore public order.

The state of emergency also suspended constitutional rights such as freedom of movement and assembly, according to a decree published in the official gazette.

In protest epicenter Puno, the government declared a new night-time curfew for 10 days, from 8:00 pm to 4:00 am.

Dozens of demonstrators arrived in Lima's Miraflores district late Saturday as part of a mobilization for what they called a "takeover of the city."

Almost 100 stretches of road remained blockaded Sunday in 10 of Peru's 25 regions -- a record, according to a senior land transport official.

Castillo, a former rural school teacher and union leader, faced vehement opposition from Congress during his 18 months in office and is the subject of numerous criminal investigations into allegations of widespread graft.

His ouster sparked immediate nationwide protests, mainly among the rural poor, that petered out over the holiday period but resumed on January 4.

- 'Terrible cruelties' -

In the run-up to Monday's demonstrations, attitudes among both protesters and government officials appeared to harden.

"We ask that Dina Boluarte resign as president and that Congress be shut down. We don't want any more deaths," Jasmin Reinoso, a 25-year-old nurse from Ayacucho, told AFP.

Prime Minister Alberto Otarola called for protesters to "radically change" their tactics and opt for dialogue.

"There is a small group organized and paid for by drug trafficking and illegal mining that wants to take power by force," Otarola said on local television.

An Ipsos poll published Sunday said Boluarte had a 71 percent disapproval rating.

The unrest has been largely concentrated in the southern Andes, where Quechua and Aymara communities live.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has said that in order to end the crisis, these groups need to be better integrated into Peruvian society.

Jose Muro, deputy minister of territorial governance, told TV Peru Sunday the government would create "spaces for dialogue" countrywide to discuss unanswered social demands.

Radical groups?

Peru has been politically unstable for years, with 60-year-old Boluarte the country's sixth president in five years.

Castillo has been remanded in custody for 18 months, charged with rebellion and other crimes.

The authorities insist radical groups are behind the protests, including remnants of the Shining Path communist guerrilla group.

As proof, they have presented the capture this week of a former member of that organization, Rocio Leandro, whom the police accuse of having financed some of the unrest.

© Agence France-Presse