Flames erupt in Peru’s capital as protesters call for president to resign


LIMA, Peru — Flames erupted in the heart of Peru’s capital on Thursday night as a building caught fire in the city’s historic center and police launched tear gas at protesters demanding the resignation of President Dina Boluarte.

Dramatic images showed the blaze enveloping the top of the building near San Martín Plaza, a prominent public square in Lima where large crowds of protesters had gathered for hours. The cause and extent of the fire was not immediately clear.

Thousands of protesters had descended on the capital Thursday afternoon to pour out their anger at the government after at least 53 people died in recent clashes between protesters and police, marking some of the worst violence in the country in decades. At least 19 of those deaths occurred in a single protest in southern Peru last week.

The protests began in response to the ouster of former president Pedro Castillo, who was impeached and arrested in December after he tried to dissolve Congress. But they have grown to become a much broader movement — a loud display of frustration over the deaths of demonstrators, and a government and Congress widely seen as corrupt and indifferent to the country’s poor.

Discontent, death toll rise as Peru’s poor demand change

After weeks of unrest in rural regions failed to bring about the change they wanted, protesters from across the country made their way to Peru’s capital, demanding to be heard. They arrived in caravans of buses, after many hours or multiple days of travel, and marched through the streets of Lima to call for what they described as solutions to the political turmoil. Among them: The resignation of Boluarte, the upheaval of a deeply unpopular Congress and the possible creation of a constitutional assembly. A group of protesters carried signs with photos of some of those killed in recent weeks. Others marched while carrying boxes resembling coffins.

“Dina, Dina, Dina,” protesters chanted. “Traitor and murderer.”

“To the people who marginalize us, to the people who think we are ignorant … we are tired,” said Carlos Villafuerte, a 42-year-old resident of Cusco. “Unfortunately, the woman doesn’t listen to us when we’re over there. Let’s see if they’ll listen to us here.”

In a national televised address Thursday night, Boluarte told Peruvians her government remained “firm” and “the situation is under control.” She criticized demonstrators “generating acts of violence that destroy private and state property” and vowed to prosecute the crimes. In the country’s interior, she said, protesters had attempted to take control of three airports. She called for a “dialogue” with protesters who had traveled to the capital, while also condemning their actions and questioning their intentions.

“To those who are marching daily, who is financing you?” she asked. “You’re not working … what money are you bringing home? Why are you abandoning your families to go to the streets to protest?”

Protesters in Peru refuse to back down as political crisis deepens

“You want to generate chaos and disorder … to take control of the nation,” she added. “You are wrong.”

Boluarte has repeatedly refused calls to resign, and rejected protesters’ calls for a new constitutional assembly. Her government has also extended a state of emergency in the country’s capital and three other regions.

The presence of thousands of security forces on Thursday diverted the protesters from their planned route through Lima’s historical center, firing tear gas into the crowds at dusk and as the city fell dark.

Earlier in the evening, a group of people carried an injured man out of the protests, telling a reporter his leg had been hit directly with a tear-gas canister. Another group of volunteer medics carried an injured man in a makeshift stretcher and helped him into a taxi.

Many protesters, meanwhile, were resolute in their goal: They will stay on Lima’s streets until Boluarte is out of office.

“We want the murderer to resign,” said Elva Fernandez Quisped, 47, who traveled by bus from Ayacucho, the site of some of the deadliest protests last month. “We want justice.”

Fiorella Callañaupa Manottupa, a 24-year-old political science student, joined a group of college students that traveled more than 24 hours by bus from Cusco before arriving in the capital, where they were sleeping at a university. Strangers along the way offered to donate them water and food.

Callañaupa said she had voted for — and once believed in — former president Castillo. “We saw in him a person who gave us back that confidence.” But she was disappointed in him and his government, and especially in his successor.

“We can no longer reach a dialogue, because many people have died,” she said, calling for Boluarte to resign immediately.

Another college student next to her, Gilberto Huaman Laime, 24, said it would be a “failure” to return to Cusco before seeing the change they have long demanded.

“Over there,” he said, “they’re waiting for us to return with a victory.”

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