17 protesters die in bloodiest day of Peru protests

Lima, Jan 9 (EFE).- At least 17 people died Monday in new clashes between protesters and security forces in the southern Peruvian city of Juliaca, bringing the total to at least 46 killed nationwide since the start of anti-government protests last month.

According to reports from the Ministry of Health and the Ombudsman’s Office, most of the 17 protesters died in the clashes that occurred in the vicinity of the Juliaca airport, the epicenter of the protests demanding the resignation of President Dina Boluarte, the closure of congress, new elections this year and a constituent assembly.

 Ombudsman Eliana Revollar told news outlet Canal N that the deaths included at least one minor under the age of 17, and regretted the clashes had “become very violent,” adding that the protesters used “homemade weapons” and urged them to act peacefully.

“The solution to this problem is political. That is why we call on congress and the government to find a real way out,” she concluded.

The director of the Regional Health Directorate (Diresa) in Puno, Ismael Cornejo, told the same outlet that the first death on Monday was from a gunshot wound to the head and the second from a gunshot wound to the lung.

The Ombudsman’s Office also reported the death of a 35-week-old baby who died in an ambulance due to “events related to road blockades” in Chucuito district, also in Puno.

Relatives of those injured by clashes between demonstrators and police protest at a health center in Juliaca, Peru, 9 January 2023. EFE/ Stringer

Monday was the sixth consecutive day of protests in Peru since they resumed on Jan. 4 after a Christmas truce, and the most tragic since they began in December.

So far, Boluarte has not commented on the 17 deaths on Monday, which brings the total to 46 people who have lost their lives in a month with her in office.

Of this total, 36 died in confrontations and another seven “due to a traffic accident and events related to the blockade” of roads, according to the Ombudsman’s Office.

Hours before the deaths were confirmed, the president declared that the extreme left sectors that supported the ousted former elected president Pedro Castillo are now asking for a series of demands that are only “a pretext to continue generating chaos.”

Boluarte said she had already asked congress to bring forward the elections to 2024 and parliament approved it in its first required vote, so it must be ratified in a second round.

In addition, she said these “radical left” leaders are asking for the convocation of a constituent assembly, the closure of parliament and the release of Castillo, issues that are not in their hands, since “the one who wanted to close congress is now in prison.”   

Shortly after, Prime Minister Alberto Otárola denounced that an “organized attack on the rule of law and institutions” and a “coup d’état” were underway, for which he blamed the protesters.

In a statement without taking questions, Otárola said that the confrontations in Juliaca were “an organized, systematic attack of vandalism and violent organizations against the rule of law and the institutions” of Puno.

FOOTAGE COURTESY OF AMÉRICA TELEVISIÓN

“As if they were in a war scenario, they have tried to take over the airport,” he said after asserting that the responsibility lies with “those who want to carry out a coup.”

He added that this action mobilized around 9,000 people in Juliaca and that some 2,000 “began an all-out attack against the police (…) generating an extreme situation.”

Otárola announced that in the coming hours the government of Boluarte will announce “important measures on public security” and urged the National Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the clashes, which he said also injured 75 police officers.  

Last month, confrontations between security forces and opponents of the Dec. 7 ouster of Castillo resulted in 28 deaths, 22 of them attributable to shots fired by police and soldiers. Ten of the 28 deaths occurred in Ayacucho when a group of demonstrators tried to force their way to that city’s airport.

Castillo, who is facing charges of rebellion and conspiracy for attempting to dissolve congress and install a new emergency government, is being held in pre-trial detention.

Most of the fatalities followed the transitional government’s imposition of a state of emergency entailing the suspension of some constitutional rights. EFE

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