May 29, 2009 / 8:11 PM / 9 years ago

Peru's prime minister threatening to quit

LIMA, May 29 (Reuters) - Peru’s prime minister threatened on Friday to resign unless President Alan Garcia’s party gives him more support as he tries to end blockades in the Amazon and retake lawless regions run by cocaine traffickers.

Yehude Simon was miffed when lawmakers from the president’s APRA party failed to show up or walked out of Congress on Thursday as he presented his plan for defeating a band of violent leftists who control coca production in the Apurimac and Ene valleys of southern Peru.

“If the party isn’t comfortable with my being in the administration, I don’t have any problem (quitting),” he said.

“If so many people were worried about this anti-drug plan, why didn’t they participate in the session?”

Leading members of APRA apologized to Simon for the slight.

Garcia appointed Simon nearly a year ago, hoping his past as a left-wing activist would help the administration avert conflicts with unions and indigenous groups.

But Simon, who hails from the tiny Humanist Party and is sometimes seen as a presidential candidate in 2011, has struggled to make inroads with opposition groups and calm social tensions.

The national federation of mining unions, which represents thousands of workers in the country’s most important sector, is threatening to go on strike in June.

Tribes in the Amazon have blockaded ports and roads since April and shut down the country’s main oil pipeline. They want the government to overturn laws introduced to encourage foreign mining and energy companies to develop billions of dollars in projects in the rain forest.

Simon, acting as the government’s chief negotiator, has so far failed to end the blockades.

The army has also been stung by a series of deadly setbacks in the coca zones of the Apurimac and Ene valleys, the source of half the cocaine in the world’s top producer after Colombia.

More than two dozen soldiers have been killed in the coca-growing valleys in recent months in ambushes by Shining Path rebels. The group waged a long, bloody war against the state for years but went into the drug business in the 1990s after its leadership was captured.

Simon has promised a comprehensive development and security program for coca-growing zones to prevent people from getting involved in the drug trade or collaborating with the rebels, but it would take months to implement.

If Simon quits, Garcia — who is three years into his five-year term and has approval ratings of 30 percent — might pick a replacement from outside his party to help shore up his coalition in Congress, where APRA lacks a majority. (Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Terry Wade; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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