Crisis in Peru: Protests erupt in Peru as thousands of police officers deploy to guard capital

CNN — 

Protests across Peru on Thursday saw thousands of police officers deployed to the capital Lima as thousands of protesters marched toward the downtown area, while fierce clashes erupted in the southern city of Arequipa.

The Andean country’s weeks-long protest movement – which seeks a complete reset of the government – was sparked by the ouster of former President Pedro Castillo in December and fueled by deep dissatisfaction over living conditions and inequality in the country.

Demonstrators’ fury has also grown with the rising death toll: At least 53 people have been killed amid clashes with security forces since the unrest began, and a further 772, including security officials, have been injured, the national Ombudsman’s office said Thursday.

Protesters shouted “assassins” at police and threw rocks on Thursday near Arequipa’s international airport, which suspended flights on Thursday as several people tried to tear down fences, according live footage from the city. Smoke could be seen billowing from the surrounding fields.

Protestors marching in Lima meanwhile – in defiance of a government-ordered state of emergency – demanded the resignation of President Dina Boluarte and called for general elections as soon as possible.

General Victor Sanabria, head of Peru’s National Police for the Lima region, told local media that 11,800 police officers were deployed in Lima, with key locations such as the parliament, the prosecutor’s office, select TV stations, the Supreme Court and the army headquarters receiving extra protection.

Protester Daniel Mamani said that even if “the state says that we are criminals, terrorists, we are not,” he told CNN en Espanol. “We are workers, the ordinary population of the day to day that work, the state oppresses us, they all need to get out, they are useless.”

“We are not vandals, we work with our effort, not like other corrupt people that come here to take money out of the country, and with that, they fill up with money, they just work for themselves, they don’t work for the country, it’s a lie,” said another protester, Carmen Lopez.

‘A climate of more violence’

Peruvian authorities have been accused of using excessive force against protesters, including firearms, in recent weeks – a claim that police deny, saying their tactics match international standards.

Autopsies on 17 dead civilians, killed during protests in the city of Juliaca on January 9, found wounds caused by firearm projectiles, the city’s head of legal medicine told CNN en Español. A police officer was burned to death by “unknown subjects” days later, police said.

Jo-Marie Burt, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, told CNN that what happened in Juliaca in early January represented “the highest civilian death toll in the country since Peru’s return to democracy” in 2000.

A fact-finding mission to Peru by the the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) also found that gunshot wounds were found in the heads and upper bodies of victims, Edgar Stuardo Ralón, the commission’s vice-president, said Wednesday.

Ralon described a broader “deterioration of public debate” over the demonstrations in Peru, with protestors labeled as “terrorists” and indigenous people referred to by derogatory terms.

Such language could generate “a climate of more violence,” he warned.