Thousands of Peruvians rally against Manuel Merino, interim government stands firm

Thousands of Peruvians took to the streets again on Saturday in rallies against President Manuel Merino, while his interim government continued to defend as “constitutional” this week´s abrupt ouster of former president Martin Vizcarra.

Protesters jammed many plazas in downtown Lima in the afternoon, with demonstrations beginning peacefully but growing more intense by nightfall.

At least one man was shot dead and three others were injured in the increasingly violent riots, according the Ombudsman’s Office in Lima.

Early in the day, in the central Plaza San Martín, hundreds of mostly young protesters unveiled a massive Peruvian flag and sang the national anthem. Later, a band of hooded protesters confronted police, throwing rocks and fireworks at them, and security forces fired back with tear gas.

The city echoed with sirens, shouts and chants of protesters demanding Merino´s removal.

Earlier, Prime Minister Ántero Flores-Aráoz told reporters that Vizcarra’s removal on corruption charges by the opposition-dominated Congress had been legal. He said Merino had no intention of caving to demands from protesters that he resign.

“This was a constitutional change”, – Flores-Aráoz said.

“We ask people for understanding. We don´t want to descend into chaos and anarchy”.

Earlier this week, some of the largest protests in decades roiled Peru´s capital, with dozens injured in clashes between protesters and security forces. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to tame the unrest, and humans rights groups said their use of force was excessive.

“Given the situation, young people cannot be indifferent, we must demand respect”, – said Sonia Julca, an economist from the University of Callao.

“The people are against this government led by Merino”.

Merino, a member of the center-right Popular Action party who had been the head of Congress, moved quickly to swear in a new cabinet this week after Vizcarra was removed on Monday. He has called for calm and promised to stick with a plan for presidential elections in April.

Vizcarra, a politically unaffiliated centrist who is popular with Peruvians, oversaw an anti-graft campaign that led to frequent clashes with Congress in a country that has a history of political upheaval and corruption.

The former president has yet to be found guilty of the corruption charges brought against him during the impeachment hearing prior to his ouster.

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