At least 13 people were crushed to death or asphyxiated during a police raid on a nightclub in Lima where a birthday party was being held despite a coronavirus ban on such gatherings.
The illegal party on Saturday drew a crowd of around 120 at the Thomas Restobar, the interior ministry said in a statement.
"Faced with the police operation, which did not use any type of weapon or tear gas, those attending the party tried to escape through the single exit, trampling each other and getting trapped in the stairway," the ministry said.
Six people, including three police officers, were injured, the ministry added.
The victims were in their 20s, according to local media.
Latin America has been badly hit by COVID-19, with Peru reimposing strict social distancing measures earlier this month. The government ordered the closure of nightclubs and bars in March and banned extended family gatherings on August 12 to fight the virus.
Peru, with a population of 33 million, has registered more than half a million COVID-19 cases and over 27,000 related deaths. The country has Latin America's second-highest infection rate, according to a Reuters tally.
A health emergency
"It should never have happened. We are in a pandemic, in a health emergency. I am calling for the maximum punishment possible for the nightclub owners," Women's Minister Rosario Sasieta said on Sunday.
Police have arrested 23 people and are trying to identify the organizers and the owners of the nightclub.
Some witnesses reject authorities' claims that police didn't use force against partygoers.
"It appears that police entered and threw tear gas canisters at them, and boxed them in," one local resident told RPP radio.
Orlando Velasco of the National Police said such incidents happen when people "begin to fight to get out."
shs/mm (Reuters, AFP)