'No harvests': Peru farm protests grip country, turn deadly

LIMA (Reuters) - Protests by farm workers demanding better wages in Peru raged on for a fourth day Thursday, spreading north into key agricultural areas of the Andean nation, derailing harvests of some crops, snarling transport of produce and leaving at least one dead.

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Peruvian interim President Francisco Sagasti called the death of a protester a “tragedy” and told reporters the government would immediately investigate the first casualty in demonstrations over farm worker rights and wages that began on Monday.

“We do not want anyone to die in protests to defend their labor rights,” Sagasti said.

The death of two young people in Lima last month led to the resignation of Sagasti’s predecessor, Manuel Merino, prompting renewed scrutiny of the actions of security forces in the Andean nation.

Farm workers alleged police had attacked protesters to clear roadways and tame the demonstrations, which spread northwards from the country’s south into regions known for vast fields of table grapes, tangerines and blueberries.

“The workers ... have been attacked by the police who have arrived in great numbers to prevent them from continuing to block the road,” said Juan Herrera, a national leader of agrarian workers.

Workers from Camposol, a major fruit exporter, joined the fray on Thursday. Farm laborers from agro-exporter Talsa announced they too would join the rallies on Friday.

“All activities have been paralyzed, there are no harvests, there is nothing. Grapes and asparagus are going bad, we are in the middle of the season for these two crops,” Fernando Cilloniz, a grape exporter, told Reuters.

Peru is a major global exporter of blueberries as well as producing grapes, avocados and asparagus.

Hundreds of buses and tractor trailer trucks carrying fresh fruit were stranded for the fourth day along the Panamericana Sur highway 300 km (190 miles) south of Lima, prompting clashes with protesters blocking the roadways.

Negotiations between the government and protest leaders have failed to reach agreement, though lawmakers have committed to reviewing a decades-old agriculture promotion law that farm workers view as unjust.

Reporting by Maria Cervantes; writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Aurora Ellis