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Peru: Government shuts Machu Picchu as protests continue

January 22, 2023

Peru's Ministry of Culture said the closure of the tourist site came to "preserve the safety of the visitors." Violent protests have continued since the removal and arrest of leftist former President Pedro Castillo.

Elevated view of inca ruins, Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru, South America Aguas Calientes, Cusco, Peru
Protests in Peru have led the authorities to close the famed Machu Picchu siteImage: Cavana Images/IMAGO

Rescue teams on Saturday helped evacuate more than 400 visitors who were stuck in the famous Inca citadel of Machu Picchu after nationwide anti-government demonstrations disrupted transportation, according to the Peruvian Ministry of Tourism.

"This afternoon the 418 domestic and foreign visitors were transferred from the town of Machu Picchu to... Cusco," the ministry's Twitter account posted, along with photos of a train and passengers. 

Earlier, Peru indefinitely shut down the popular Machu Picchu tourist site as deadly unrest gripping the country for over a month left hundreds of tourists stranded.

The Ministry of Culture on Saturday announced the closure of the Inca trails network and the Machu Picchu citadel "due to the social situation and to preserve the safety of visitors" and the general public.

Dozens have been killed in anti-government protests which began in Peru in early December following the removal and arrest of leftist former President Pedro Castillo shortly after his attempt to dissolve Congress. The authorities declared a state of emergency in an effort to control the situation.

Dozens injured in anti-government protests in Peru

Why is Machu Picchu affected?

Some 400 people, including 300 foreigners are stranded in the town of Aguas Calientes at the trailhead of the path leading to Machu Picchu, the French AFP news agency reported.

A Chilean tourist told the news agency that tourists were queuing to register for evacuation. "We don't know if a train will pick us up," tourist Alem Lopez said.

Tourism Minister Luis Fernando Helguero said on Friday that tourists couldn't leave the site due to damage to the railway in different places. He added that some people have taken the long and laborious walk to Piscacucho, the closest village with road connections, yet highlighted that most could not endure the walk.

Police clear a street during anti-government protests in Lima, Peru, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023.
Dozens have been killed in anti-government protests which began in Peru in early DecemberImage: Guadalupe Pardo/AP/picture alliance

Earlier this week, Peru's railway announced it was suspending operations between Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu stations due to damage to the track by demonstrators. The only way to get up to the popular tourist site is by train.

The Ollantaytambo district is another tourist attraction that lies some 47 kilometers (nearly 30 miles) southeast of Machu Picchu. The town is known for the Ollantaytambo ruins, a massive fortress with large stone terraces.

Protests continue in Lima

Meanwhile, on Saturday, protests continued in several parts of the country including the capital, with one more protester killed.

Authorities said the protester died following demonstrations in the town of Ilave in the south.

A viral video clip on social media from Ilave showed police firing directly into a throng of Indigenous protesters in the town plaza. 

Local media said that incensed demonstrators reacted by setting fire to a police station.

Hospital authorities said that 10 persons were injured as a result of the clashes between the police and the crowd.

Meanwhile, students held protests at the National University of San Marcos in Lima, one of the most high-profile educational institutions in the country. Local reporters posted videos on Twitter purportedly showing police forces breaking into the university campus to break up the protest.

Several students were reportedly arrested.

There have been demands for fresh elections since President Dina Boluarte took power. The president has expressed regret for the death of protesters, some 45 so far, yet she refused to step down.

rmt, ss/sms (AFP, EFE)