Berliner Tageblatt - More protests in Peru as ousted president awaits verdict on release from detention

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More protests in Peru as ousted president awaits verdict on release from detention
More protests in Peru as ousted president awaits verdict on release from detention / Photo: © AFP

More protests in Peru as ousted president awaits verdict on release from detention

Crowds of supporters of Peru's ex-president Pedro Castillo converged on congress Thursday despite a state of emergency declared in an effort to halt sometimes deadly protests triggered by his ouster last week.

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"We must fight. Pedro Castillo is president," said protester Milagros Quispe, holding her five-month-old baby in her arms outside the congress building, where demonstrators have gathered daily since lawmakers removed the leftist Castillo from office on December 7.

"I am an ignorant woman who knows her rights," said Lucy Carranza, a 41 year old housekeeper. "We are not terrorists. The president has been kidnapped. There is no other word for it."

Castillo meanwhile awaited a Supreme Court decision on whether to free him or extend his detention for 18 months.

He was removed from office and arrested last week after he tried to dissolve the legislature and announced he would rule by decree. He did this to try to dodge an impeachment vote. Castillo faced several corruption probes.

He was initially detained provisionally for seven days, but prosecutors have requested he be held in pre-trial detention for another 18 months.

Castillo stands accused of rebellion and conspiracy and could be jailed for up to 10 years if found guilty, according to public prosecutor Alcides Diaz.

His arrest has sparked a week of violent protests by supporters, who have clashed with security forces in unrest that has left eight people dead and around 200 injured, the health ministry says.

Dozens of Castillo's supporters have camped outside the prison where he is being held in Lima to demand his release.

Indigenous people from Peru's Amazon jungle regions in the center and southeast have also joined the protests.

Dina Boluarte, the former vice-president who was quickly sworn in as president after Castillo's arrest, on Wednesday declared a nationwide state of emergency for 30 days.

On Thursday she exhorted congress to approve a constitutional reform that will allow her to bring forward elections slated for July 2026 to December 2023.

New elections are one of the main demands of pro-Castillo demonstrators.

- 'Terrorists, thieves, corrupt' -

Four airports have been shut down due to the protests while more than 100 roads throughout the country remain blocked.

Hundreds of tourists have been left stranded at Peru's most popular attraction, the 15th-century Inca citadel Machu Picchu, after the train service to the site was suspended.

Protest leaders have said they will stage new demonstrations again on Friday, demanding Castillo's release, Boluarte's resignation, Congress's closure and new elections.

Castillo and his attorneys were not present at his virtual release hearing.

The judge said Castillo refused to accept the summons, so his case was assigned to a public defense lawyer.

The hearing was supposed to take place on Wednesday when Castillo's initial seven-day detention expired but was postponed by 24 hours after the former leader's lawyers argued they had not received the necessary documents related to his case from prosecutors.

Judge Juan Checkley then ordered Castillo remain in prison for another 48 hours.

Castillo has called his arrest unjust and arbitrary and called on the security forces to "stop killing" protesters.

Speaking outside the prison in Lima where Castillo is being held, his niece Vilma Vasquez complained that his political opponents had mounted a smear campaign against the ex-president even before he took office last year, including trying to link him to the Shining Path Maoist guerrillas that wrought chaos to Peru in the 1980s and 90s.

"From the first day that he took office and even during the (election) campaign, already we were (called) terrorists," said Vasquez.

"They didn't let him govern, we were thieves, we were corrupt. We're going to stay here until he leaves" prison.

- 'The president has been kidnapped' -

Before his election, Castillo's detractors tried to paint him as a dangerous communist and Shining Path sympathizer.

However, Castillo argued that he was part of the peasant patrols that fought against the Shining Path in rural areas.

Castillo, a leftist former school teacher, was in power for only 17 months in the South American nation that is prone to political instability and is now on its sixth president in six years.

His short period in office was marked by a power struggle with the opposition-dominated Congress, and six investigations into him and his family mainly for corruption.