Peru's armed forces to take control of key infrastructure amid protests
LIMA, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Peru's armed forces will take control of the "protection" of key infrastructure, its defense minister said Tuesday, as protests that have led to at least six deaths continue across the country following the ousting of its former president.
Peru's new president, Dina Boluarte, had earlier in the day pledged to work with Congress to see if the next election could be held sooner than previously proposed and pleaded for calm. She also said she would speak with other regional leaders who came to the defense of jailed former President Pedro Castillo.
The former vice president was sworn in last Wednesday after Castillo illegally sought to dissolve Congress hours before being swiftly removed from office by lawmakers, and arrested shortly afterward.
The move has led to angry and sometimes violent protests by Castillo's supporters demanding a fresh presidential election, which have been met by police dispersing tear gas and gunfire in an effort to quell the unrest.
Boluarte has already pledged to seek a way to hold the election slated for 2026 in April 2024.
"I'm arranging a meeting with the constitution committee (of the Congress) so that together we can shorten the timeframe," she said, adding that she could not change the timing of the election without congressional support.
Castillo is being investigated over charges of rebellion and conspiracy. He lashed out over his detention on Tuesday, while also calling on soldiers and police to lay down their arms during a court appearance from a Lima prison.
"I've been unjustly and arbitrarily detained," said Castillo, in remarks broadcast online by the court. He repeated that he was innocent of the charges he faces.
In posts on Twitter shortly afterwards, Castillo said there had been a "massacre of my people" and again called on the armed forces to end the bloodshed.
Peru's Supreme Court later on Tuesday ruled a legal appeal from Castillo was baseless.
Among the victims from the social unrest are five teenagers and a 38-year-old man, according to the country's ombudsman, which on Tuesday said six people had been killed during the protests, compared to a previous estimate of seven.
Some protesters have torched public buildings, attacked police stations and blocked highways while demanding Boluarte's resignation, a new constitution and the dissolution of Congress.
In Lima, public schools closed on Tuesday, while at least one key court in the capital announced it would also close for the day after rocks were hurled at it on Monday.
Three airports, in Apurimac, Arequipa and the tourist hub of Cusco remained shuttered on Tuesday due to the unrest.
Police reported that there were highway blockades Tuesday morning in 13 of the country's 24 regions.
In response to the disruptions, Defense Minister Alberto Otarola said Peru's government would declare a state of emergency on the highway system to guarantee free transit.
The country's armed forces were also charged with the "protection" of infrastructure including airports and hydroelectric plants, Otarola told journalists late Tuesday.
Meanwhile, a diplomatic spat played out between Peru's new president and several leftist governments in the region, who came to Castillo's defense in a joint statement on Monday. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said relations with Peru were now on hold.
Boluarte said she plans to talk with the leaders while also defending the arrest of her predecessor.
In a post on Twitter, Jaime Quito, a lawmaker with the Marxist Peru Libre party that Castillo rode to a narrow election victory last year, lambasted both Boluarte and the conservative-dominated Congress as engineers of a coup.
"They've declared war on the people," he wrote.
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.