Peru president ouster sparks mass protests

Franklin Briceno
·2-min read

Peru's Congress has voted overwhelmingly to remove now former president Martin Vizcarra, complaining about his handling of the pandemic and accusing him of corruption.

The shock vote drew condemnation from international rights groups who warned that the powerful legislature may have violated the constitution and jeopardised Peru's democracy.

The move has also sparked protests unlike any seen in recent years, fuelled largely by young people typically apathetic to the country's notoriously turbulent politics who saw the ouster as a power grab by lawmakers, many of whom were being investigated for corruption under Vizcarra's government.

Police repressing the mobilisations with tear gas and rubber bullets have been criticised for excessive use of force.

Nineteen people, including officers and civilians, were injured at a large protest on Thursday, according to the public defender's office. Rights groups have also warned about the use of plain clothes officers with no identification and tear gas deployed near homes and hospitals.

Eighteen protesters were detained in the march on Thursday.

Analysts say the demonstrations - and the heavy-handed police response - are a clear sign that Merino will have difficulty governing.

Few countries in the region extended congratulations to the new leader and many are calling on him to keep in place a planned April election.

Merino has stated the presidential vote will take place as scheduled and defended Vizcarra's ouster, saying it was an "act of absolute responsibility" and even calling the former president "a thief."

The protests come a year after a wave of demonstrations shook Latin America, with protesters in Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and elsewhere taking to the streets to protest their governments and demand better conditions for the poor and working class.

Like those protests, the Peru demonstrations are loosely organised, driven by notices posted on social media and fuelled in large part by the demands of young people.

Prosecutors are investigating allegations Vizcarra took over $US630,000 ($A866,504) in bribes in exchange for two construction projects while governor of a small province years ago.

Vizcarra - who made combating the nation's widespread corruption the mission of his government - vehemently denied the allegations.

But members of Congress - half of whom are under investigation themselves - pressed forward, invoking a clause dating to the 19th century that allows them to remove a president for "moral incapacity."

The former president has not been charged.

While polls show most Peruvians wanted Vizcarra to remain in office until his term ends in July and then face a probe into the allegations, some segments of society supported his destitution.

The protests have taken place in cities around the nation. In the capital, the historic San Martin plaza has become a central gathering point.

Despite the heavy police response, many have vowed to keep protesting.