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Peruvian Andes 'descended' to the capital to demand leader's resignation

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LIMA, Peru (AP) – People thronged Peru’s coastal capital, many of them from remote regions of the Andes, for a protest on Thursday against President Dina Boluarte and in support of her predecessor, whose ouster last month sparked unrest. deadly and threw the country into political chaos.

There was a tense calm in the streets of Lima on Thursday morning ahead of a protest that supporters of former President Pedro Castillo hope to open a new chapter in the weeks-long movement to demand Boluarte’s resignation, the dissolution of Congress, immediate elections and structural changes in the country. Castillo, the first Peruvian leader of rural Andean origin, was impeached after a failed attempt to dissolve Congress.

“We have delinquent ministers, presidents who murder and we live like animals in the midst of so much wealth that is stolen from us every day,” said Samuel Acero, a farmer who heads the regional protest committee for the southeastern city of Cusco. while walking through downtown Lima on Thursday morning. “We want Dina Boluarte to leave, she lied to us.”

Protests so far have taken place mainly in the southern Andes of Peru, with 53 people killed in the unrest, the vast majority killed in clashes with security forces.

“We are at a breaking point between dictatorship and democracy,” said Pedro Mamani, a student at the National University of San Marcos. The students are housing protesters who traveled to the capital of Peru for the protest that is popularly known as the “takeover of Lima”.

The university was surrounded by police, who also gathered at several important points in the historic center of Lima.

A total of 11,800 police will be deployed in Lima, Victor Zanabria, head of the local police force, told local media. He downplayed the size of the protests, saying he expected around 2,000 people to participate.

The demonstrations that erupted last month and subsequent clashes with security forces represent the worst political violence Peru has experienced in over two decades and highlighted the deep divisions that exist in the country between the urban elite concentrated in Lima and the rural areas. poor, where citizens often feel relegated.

“In my own country, the voices of the Andes, the voices of the majority have been silenced,” said Florencia Fernández, a lawyer who lives in Cusco, the Wednesday before the protest. “We had to travel to this aggressive city, this centralist city, and we say the Andes came down.”

By bringing the protest to Lima, protesters hope to give new weight to the movement that began when Boluarte, who was vice president, took office on Dec. 7 to replace Castillo.

“When there are tragedies, bloodshed outside the capital, they don’t have the same political relevance on the public agenda as if they happened in the capital,” said Alonso Cárdenas, professor of public policy at the Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University in Lima. “The leaders understood that and they say, they can massacre us in Cusco, in Puno, and nothing happens, we need to take the protest to Lima,” Cárdenas added, citing two cities that have suffered violent protests.

The concentration of protesters in Lima also reflects how the capital has seen more anti-government demonstrations in recent days.

“Lima, which had not joined the protests in the first phase in December, decided to join after the massacre in Juliaca,” said Omar Coronel, professor of political science at the Catholic University of Peru, referring to the 18 people killed. in that southern city on January 9th.

Protesters plan to march on Thursday from downtown Lima to the Miraflores neighborhood, one of the emblematic neighborhoods of the country’s economic elite.

The government urged protesters to be peaceful.

“We know they want to take Lima,” Boluarte said this week. “I ask that they take Lima, yes, but in peace” and added that “I would wait for them at the Government House to be able to talk about their social agendas”.

Boluarte said he supports a plan to postpone presidential and congressional elections until 2024, originally scheduled for 2026.

Many protesters say no dialogue is possible with a government they say has unleashed so much violence against its citizens.

As protesters gathered in Lima, more violence erupted in southern Peru.

On Wednesday, in the city of Macusani, demonstrators set fire to the police station and judicial office after two people were killed and another seriously injured by gunfire amid anti-government protests.

Officers had to escape the police station which the mob burned in a helicopter, police said. Macusani, about 160 kilometers from the city of Juliaca, near Lake Titicaca, is the capital of the province of Carabaya,

Activists dubbed Thursday’s demonstration in Lima the Marcha de los Cuatro Suyos, a reference to the four cardinal points of the Inca empire. It is also the same name given to another major mobilization that took place in 2000, when thousands of Peruvians took to the streets against the autocratic government of Alberto Fujimori, who resigned months later.

There are several key differences between these demonstrations and this week’s protests.

“In 2000, the people protested against a regime that was already consolidated in power,” said Cárdenas. “In this case, they are facing a government that has only been in power for a month and is incredibly fragile.”

Another distinction is that the 2000 protests had a centralized leadership and were led by political parties. “Now what we have is something much more fragmented,” said Coronel.

The protests that engulfed much of Peru last month were largely grassroots efforts with no clear leadership.

“We have never seen a mobilization of this magnitude, there is already a thought installed in the peripheries that it is necessary, urgently to transform everything”, said Gustavo Montoya, historian of the National University of San Marcos. “I have a feeling we are witnessing a historic shift.”

Protests have grown to the point where protesters are unlikely to be satisfied with Boluarte’s resignation and are now demanding more fundamental structural reform.

The protests erupted “in regions that have been systematically treated as second-class citizens,” Montoya said. “I think this is just going to keep growing.”

Analysts warn that failing to listen to protesters’ demands could have tragic consequences.

“We have to start thinking about what we want to do with Peru, otherwise this whole thing could explode,” Cárdenas said.

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Associated Press journalist Mauricio Muñoz contributed.

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