Peru's chief prosecutor launches probes into protest deaths

By Marco Aquino

LIMA (Reuters) - Peru's attorney general has launched 11 inquiries to identify those responsible for more than three dozen mostly civilian deaths during some of the country's most violent social protests in years, her office said on Friday.

The controversial ouster of leftist former President Pedro Castillo last month triggered the unrest, which has claimed the lives of at least 41 civilians and one police officer.

The office of Peru's attorney general, Patricia Benavides, announced the investigations focused on the violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces in the southern heavily-indigenous regions of Puno, Cusco, Arequipa, Apurimac and Ucayali, as well as the country's capital Lima.

This week, Benavidez opened a preliminary "genocide" investigation against President Dina Boluarte and several ministers.

Boluarte, Castillo's former vice president, took over after lawmakers voted her embattled predecessor out of office after he sought to dissolve Congress and rule by decree on Dec. 7.

Benavidez's office said 355 civilians and 176 police officers have been injured, with another 329 citizens arrested, all linked to the anti-government street protests since Castillo's removal.

Human rights groups accuse police and soldiers of using excessive force, including live ammunition and dropping tear gas from helicopters, while security forces say protesters, mostly in Peru's southern Andes, have used homemade weapons and explosives against them.

Many of the angry and sometimes violent protests have played out in key southern mining regions, but on Thursday thousands marched through the streets of Lima demanding the closure of Congress and Boluarte's resignation.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Josie Kao)