Francisco Sagasti sworn in as Peru president: official

·2-min read
Newly appointed Peruvian interim President Francisco Sagasti is scorted by a military attache upon his arrival at the Congress building in Lima on November 17, 2020, for his swearing-in ceremony
Newly appointed Peruvian interim President Francisco Sagasti is scorted by a military attache upon his arrival at the Congress building in Lima on November 17, 2020, for his swearing-in ceremony

Peru's 76-year-old new president Francisco Sagasti was sworn in Tuesday at a special session of Congress, tasked with resolving the South American country's crippling political crisis.

Sagasti, from the centrist Morado party, will serve as interim president until the end of July 2021, completing the mandate of Martin Vizcarra, whose impeachment by Congress last Monday set off a snowballing crisis.

His immediate predecessor, former Congress speaker Manuel Merino, was forced to resign on Sunday after days of street protests culminated the day before in the death of two people.

Sagasti immediately asked for "forgiveness on behalf of the state" from the families of the two young demonstrators killed on Saturday, apparently at the hands of the police.

"We cannot bring these young people back to life," he said in a speech to the Congress.

"All of us young people feel that we have made a small achievement, but it is not enough," said Geraldine Aldave, a 22-year-old fashion designer who took part in the protests calling for Merino's dismissal.

"This president has to do something to maintain democracy, but from April, from the elections, it's up to us."

Congress, half of whose members face criminal inquiries, remains deeply unpopular over its removal of Vizcarra.

Professional clown Walter Nunez, 30, welcomed Sagasti's image as "a technically prepared person, which was not the case with the previous usurper (Merino),"

"Personally he brings peace of mind, but I am not satisfied yet because there are still members of congress who should be out."

Political analyst Augusto Alvarez Rodrich said management of the "coronavirus pandemic, economic recovery and conducting the April 11 general elections in a transparent manner" were the priorities facing the new president.

Some lawmakers have questioned the wisdom of removing Vizcarra in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and a crippling recession, but Sagasti would bring "a moment of political and economic stability" for the country, said Rodrich.

His main task will be to steady a rocky political ship.

Of the eight presidents Peru has had since the end of the country's military regime in 1985, seven have been convicted or implicated in scandals or have investigations opened against them.

Alberto Fujimori is serving a sentence for crimes against humanity and corruption. Alan Garcia, Alejandro Toledo, Ollanta Humala and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski were all implicated in the giant Odebrecht bribes scandal.

Garcia committed suicide as police entered his home to arrest him.

Vizcarra is under investigation for alleged bribery when he was governor, and prosecutors opened an investigation on Monday against Merino for the deaths of the two demonstrators.

Only Velentin Paniagua, who was president for eight months in 2000, has been spared prosecution.

bur/db/ft