Peru president asks Congress to advance elections to 2023

Published : 28 Jan 2023 08:36 PM

Peru's embattled President Dina Boluarte on Friday urged Congress to advance elections slated for April 2024 to December 2023, as protests that have killed dozens rage on against her leadership.

Peru has been embroiled in a political crisis with near-daily protests since December 7 when former president Pedro Castillo was arrested after attempting to dissolve Congress and rule by decree.

Demanding that Boluarte resign and call fresh elections, Castillo supporters have erected roadblocks on highways, causing shortages of food, fuel and other basic supplies in the South American country. The government said it will soon deploy police and soldiers to clear the roadblocks.

Lawmakers had already voted on December 21 in favor of a Boluarte bill to bring forward elections from 2026 to 2024.

But in the face of relentless protests, Boluarte on Friday urged Congress to call the vote for December.

"Congress voted once and we are waiting for them to vote again," she said at a military airport in Lima, where a plane was being loaded with emergency aid for the southern Apurimac region badly affected by the shortages.

Popular Force, the opposition party of Keiko Fujimori who lost the 2021 elections to Castillo, this week proposed holding elections in December. Congress is expected to debate the vote bill on Friday.

While Boluarte urged lawmakers to move ahead with elections, she described the political crisis as a "quagmire." "Protests continue. There are more roadblocks and violence," she added. Protesters are demanding immediate elections, as well as Boluarte's removal, the dissolution of Congress and a new constitution.

"Nobody has any interest in clinging to power," insisted Boluarte.

"I have no interest in remaining in the presidency. If I am here it is because I fulfilled my constitutional responsibility."

As Castillo's vice president, Boluarte was constitutionally mandated to replace him after he was impeached by Congress and arrested.

The US State Department said Friday it remained concerned about the violent demonstrations as it called "for calm dialogue and for all parties to exercise restraint and nonviolence," spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters.

In seven weeks of protests since Castillo's arrest, 47 people have been killed in clashes between security forces and protesters, according to the Ombudsman's Office of Peru.

The autonomous human rights office said another 10 civilians -- including two babies -- were collateral fatalities when they were unable to get medical treatment or medicine due to roadblocks.

In southern regions, weeks of roadblocks have resulted in shortages of food and fuel.

"There's no gas, there's no petrol. In grocery stores all you get is non-perishables and everything is very expensive, up to three times the normal price," marketing employee Guillermo Sandino told AFP in Ica, a city 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Lima that connects the capital to the south.

On Thursday, the defense and interior ministries announced that police and the military would soon move to clear the roadblocks.

Authorities said that traffic was blocked in eight of Peru's 25 regions on Thursday, which has also complicated medical treatment in some areas, with doctors unable to access needed medicines. Some of the worst violence and highest death tolls have come when protesters tried to storm airports in the country's south.

Those southern regions with large Indigenous populations have been the epicenter of the protest movement that has affected Peru's vital tourism industry.

As well as blocking dozens of roads and forcing the temporary closure of several airports, protesters have placed rocks on the train tracks that act as the only transport access to Machu Picchu, the former Inca citadel and jewel of Peruvian tourism.

That resulted in hundreds of tourists being left stranded at the archeological ruins and many of them were evacuated by helicopter.