Thousands of Peruvians rally against Manuel Merino, interim government stands firm

LIMA, Nov 14 (Reuters) - Thousands of Peruvians took to the streets again on Saturday in rallies against President Manuel Merino, while his interim government continued to defend as “constitutional” this week´s abrupt ouster of former president Martin Vizcarra.

Prime Minister Ántero Flores-Aráoz told reporters that Vizcarra´s removal on corruption charges by the opposition-dominated Congress was legal, and said Merino had no intention of caving to protesters demands he resign.

“This was a constitutional change,” Flores-Aráoz said. “We ask people for understanding. We don´t want to descend into chaos and anarchy.”

Some of the largest protests in decades roiled Peru´s capital this week, with dozens injured in clashes between protesters and security forces. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to tame the unrest, and humans rights groups said their use of force was excessive.

Protesters again jammed many streets and plazas in downtown Lima on Saturday afternoon, but the demonstrations remained largely peaceful. In the central Plaza San Martín, hundreds of mostly young protesters unveiled a massive Peruvian flag and sang the national anthem.

“Given the situation, young people cannot be indifferent, we must demand respect,” said Sonia Julca, an economist from the University of Callao. “The people are against this government led by Merino.”

Merino, a member of the center-right Popular Action party who had been the head of Congress, moved quickly to swear in a new cabinet this week after Vizcarra was removed on Monday. He has called for calm and promised to stick with a plan for presidential elections in April.

Vizcarra, a politically unaffiliated centrist who is popular with Peruvians, oversaw an anti-graft campaign that led to frequent clashes with Congress in a country that has a history of political upheaval and corruption.

The former president has yet to be found guilty of the corruption charges brought against him during the impeachment hearing prior to his ouster. (Reporting by Marco Aquino and Reuters TV; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by David Gregorio)