Peru thrown into further turmoil as interim leader resigns after two protesters die

Peru’s interim president has resigned after just five days following the deaths of two people in protests over the sudden removal of his predecessor.

Manuel Merino was sworn in on Tuesday after Peru‘s opposition-dominated Congress voted to remove popular centrist Martin Vizcarra as president over bribery allegations, which he denies.

But in a televised speech at midday on Sunday, Mr Merino, the former head of Congress who had led the push to impeach Mr Vizcarra, announced his resignation.

He said it was “irrevocable” and called for “peace and unity”.

Minutes before, Congress president Luis Valdez said all of the country’s political parties had agreed he should resign or they would launch impeachment proceedings against him.

Some of the country’s largest protests in decades have taken place since Mr Vizcarra, who was politically unaffiliated, was removed and while they were mainly peaceful, they collapsed into chaos late on Saturday.

Two young protesters were killed in clashes, the public ombudsman said as Peru’s state medical programme, EsSalud, confirmed two young men had died from gunshot wounds.

Peru’s National Human Rights co-ordinator said 102 people were injured and at least 41 were missing, and the health ministry said 63 people were admitted to hospital with injuries or for inhaling tear gas, nine with gunshot wounds.

Peruvians celebrated Mr Merino stepping down as they took to the streets on Saturday afternoon, waving flags, chanting and banging pots.

However, the announcement plunges Peru deeper into uncertainty and legal disarray as MPs wrangle over who will replace him.

The world’s number two copper producer is also battling the coronavirus pandemic and what is expected to be its worst economic contraction in a century.

All of Mr Merino’s cabinet ministers, who had been sworn in on Thursday, offered their resignation following Saturday’s violence.

Peru’s regional governments’ national assembly had also released a statement demanding Mr Merino’s resignation and said he was “politically responsible for the acts of violence”.

His predecessor, Mr Vizcarra, blamed repression by Mr Merino’s “illegal and illegitimate government” for the deaths of the two protesters.

“The country will not allow the deaths of these brave young men to go unpunished,” the former president tweeted.

Mr Vizcarra oversaw an anti-graft campaign that caused frequent clashes with Congress.

He has yet to be found guilty of the corruption charges brought against him during the impeachment hearing before he was ousted.

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