Pressure mounts on Peru’s president after two die in protests

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Riots in Peru

Pressure was mounting on Peru’s interim president to resign after a night of protests in which two people were killed and the country’s political turmoil deepened.

At least eight of Manuel Merino’s cabinet members had resigned by early on Sunday and the president of Congress scheduled an emergency session to discuss the leader’s resignation.

More than 5,000 protesters marched through the streets of Lima on Saturday, wearing masks and carrying signs that read, “Merino is not my president”. Authorities said two men, aged 24 and 25, died from gunshot wounds during the demonstration.

Mr Merino, a little-known politician, rose to Peru’s highest office on Monday after the legislature voted to oust former president Martin Vizcarra. Legislators utilised a clause dating back to the 19th century to declare the president of “permanent moral incapacity” based on unproven allegations that he had accepted bribes while serving as governor years ago.

Angry Peruvians have taken to the streets ever since in daily demonstrations accusing Congress of staging a parliamentary coup.

Polls show most Peruvians wanted Mr Vizcarra to stay in office. The ex-president is popular for his anti-corruption crusade, which led to frequent clashes with the legislature, where half of the members are themselves under investigation.

“I am very sad over the deaths caused by the repression of this illegal and illegitimate government,” Mr Vizcarra wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “The country won’t let the deaths of these brave youths go unpunished.”

Mr Merino, who until recently served as the head of Congress, did not immediately respond to the growing calls for his resignation after Saturday’s protests.

Earlier on Saturday, Mr Merino denied the protests were against him, telling a local radio station that young people were demonstrating against unemployment and not being able to complete their studies amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Peru has the world’s highest per-capita Covid-19 mortality rate and has seen one of the region’s worst economic contractions this year.

The protests are unlike any seen in recent years, fuelled largely by young people typically apathetic to the country’s notoriously turbulent politics who view Mr Vizcarra’s ousting as a power-grab by legislators.

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