Protests move into Peru’s capital, met by tear gas and smoke

Thousands of protesters demanding the ouster of President Dina Boluarte poured into Peru’s capital, clashing with police who fired tear gas. Many came from remote regions, where dozens have died in unrest that has gripped the country since Peru’s first leader from a rural Andean background was removed from office last month.

The protests have been marked by Peru’s worst political violence in more than two decades and highlighted deep divisions between the country’s urban elite, largely concentrated in Lima, and poor rural areas. Former President Pedro Castillo has been in detention and is expected to be tried for rebellion since he was impeached after a failed attempt to dissolve Congress, AP reported.

Thursday was mostly quiet, but punctuated by scuffles and tear gas. The government called on everyone who could to work from home. After sundown, clashes escalated, and late that night, a major fire broke out at a building near the historic Plaza San Martin, although no connection to the protests was immediately clear.

Firefighters managed to put out the blaze early Friday morning, authorities said, noting the cause of the fire was still unknown. The old building housed 28 people, who were all forced to evacuate amid a risk of collapse.

Anger at Boluarte was the common thread Thursday as protesters chanted calls for her resignation and street sellers hawked T-shirts saying, “Out, Dina Boluarte,” “Dina murderer, Peru repudiates you,” and “New elections, let them all leave.”

Peru’s ombudsman said at least 13 civilians and four police officers were injured in the Lima protests Thursday. A total of 22 police officers and 16 civilians were injured Thursday throughout the country, Interior Minister Vicente Romero Fernández said.

Protesters blamed Boluarte for the violence. “Our God says thou shalt not kill your neighbor. Dina Boluarte is killing, she’s making brothers fight,” Paulina Consac said as she carried a large Bible while marching in downtown Lima with more than 2,000 protesters from Cusco.

Many Lima residents also joined protests, with strong presences from students and union members.

“We’re at a breaking point between dictatorship and democracy,” said Pedro Mamani, a student at the National University of San Marcos, where demonstrators who traveled for the protest were being housed.

The university was surrounded by police officers, who also deployed at key points of Lima’s historic downtown district — 11,800 officers in all, according to Victor Zanabria, the head of the Lima police force.

Boluarte was defiant Thursday night in a televised speech alongside key government officials in which she thanked police for controlling the “violent protests” and vowed to prosecute those responsible for violence. Boluarte has said she supports a plan to hold elections for president and Congress in 2024, two years before originally scheduled.

The president also criticized the protesters for “not having any kind of social agenda that the country needs,” accused them of “wanting to break the rule of law” and raised questions about their financing.