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Peru: Ministers resign amid deadly protests

December 16, 2022

The death toll from the nationwide protests has risen to 22, prompting two ministers to resign. An attempt to bring forward elections has also failed due to a deadlock in Congress.

Supporters of ousted Peruvian President Pedro Castillo protest on the Pan-American North Highway while police officers arrive to clear debris
More than 15 people have been killed in days of protests after the ousting of former President Pedro CastilloImage: Hugo Curotto/AP/picture alliance

Two ministers of Peru's already embattled government resigned from their posts on Friday following several deaths amid protests triggered by the ousting of former President Pedro Castillo last week.

Education Minister Patricia Correa and Culture Minister Jair Perez both cited the deaths in their announcements.

"This morning I presented my letter of resignation from the position of education minister. The death of compatriots has no justification. State violence cannot be disproportionate and cause death," Correa said.

The resignations came as Congress failed to pass a constitutional reform that would bring forward presidential elections to December 2023.

Why are people protesting in Peru?

Protesters took to the street after Congress voted for the removal of Castillo, who took office last year when he tried to dissolve the parliamentary body saying he would instead rule by decree.

He was detained and replaced by his Vice President Dina Boluarte, who was sworn in on December 7.

Castillo is facing six corruption investigations and was on the verge of seeing his third impeachment attempt. The former president has rejected the allegations.

Protesters have shut down airports and highways around the country, particularly in the rural south. This has impacted tourist drawcards like Machu Picchu.

"There are 5,000 tourists stranded in the city of Cusco, they are in their hotels waiting for flights to restart," town Mayor Darwin Baca told the AFP news agency. 

The attempted coup and subsequent ousting of Castillo is just the most recent episode in Peru's political turmoil that has seen multiple leaders impeached and arrested under charges of corruption.

Death toll climbs

Protests continued on Friday despite a nationwide state of emergency being declared on Wednesday and the deaths of at least 22 people so far, half of whom were killed on Thursday in clashes with security forces in the town of Ayacucho. 

The Ministry of Health also said on Friday that more than 60 people remain hospitalized.

United Nations meanwhile expressed "deep concern" over the death toll and reports of minors being detained for protesting.

Calls for fresh elections

These latest protests were sparked by a Supreme Court decision to hold Castillo in pretrial detention for up to 18 months during an investigation into charges of "rebellion and conspiracy."

Protesters had also been calling for Boluarte's resignation — she had been a member of Castillo's party until she was expelled earlier in the year — and new elections.

Although Boluarte said she would bring forward elections from 2026 to December 2023, Congress rejected an amendment to the constitution that would allow this to happen. Leftist parties said they would only support an amendment if it included broader constitutional reform.

A two-thirds majority of 87 votes was required for the motion to pass; 49 were in favor, 33 against and 25 abstained.

zc, ab/msh (Reuters, AFP, AP, EFE)