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Peru's Congress to initiate impeachment trial for Vizcarra

FILE PHOTO: Peru's President Martin Vizcarra addresses the nation, as he announces he was dissolving Congress, at the government palace in Lima, Peru September 30, 2019. Peruvian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

LIMA (Reuters) - Peru’s Congress approved on Monday a motion to initiate a process to remove President Martín Vizcarra from office over corruption allegations, a month and a half after he survived a prior impeachment trial.

Lawmakers approved the measure in a 60-40 vote with 18 abstentions. Vizcarra is set to present his defense before Congress on Nov. 9, with another vote to follow.

The move to oust Vizcarra follows media reports that the president allegedly accepted bribes of about 2.3 million soles ($637,000) from two companies that won public works tenders when he was the governor of the southern region of Moquegua. Vizcarra has denied the allegations.

Several legislators during the debate said the allegations were serious enough to warrant a trial.

“It is the least we should do,” said legislator Diethell Columbus, of the right-wing Popular Force party of former presidential candidate and Vizcarra political adversary Keiko Fujimori.

Peru´s president, who took office in 2018 and is constitutionally barred from seeking a new term, said some lawmakers are seeking only to generate “chaos and disorder” by pushing impeachment just months ahead of a presidential election slated for April 11.

“There is absolutely no proof of the charges,” Vizcarra told reporters earlier on Monday. “An impeachment trial destabilizes the country.”

Vizcarra, who does not have his own party representation in the legislature and whose term ends in July, survived an ouster attempt on Sept. 18 amid political tensions and an economic recession brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Only 32 of Congress’ 130 members voted to remove him.

The political turbulence in copper giant Peru comes as the country surpassed 900,000 coronavirus cases and more than 34,500 deaths, with one of the highest fatality rates per capita in the world.

Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Cassandra Garrison and Dave Sherwood; Editing by Peter Cooney and Leslie Adler