More than 50 injured as protests spark ‘nationwide chaos’ in Peru

LIMA, Jan 20 (Reuters) – Dozens of Peruvians were injured after tensions flared again on Friday night as police clashed with protesters in anti-government protests that have spread across the country.

In the capital Lima, police officers used tear gas to disperse protesters who threw glass bottles and stones, as street fires lit up, local TV footage showed.

In the country’s southern Puno region, about 1,500 protesters attacked a police station in the town of Ilavé, Interior Minister Vicente Romero said in a media statement.

A police station in Puno’s Jepita also caught fire, Romero said.

Eight patients were hospitalized with injuries, including broken arms and legs, lacerated eyes and gashed stomachs, Elave health authorities said.

According to a report by Peru’s ombudsman, 58 people were injured nationwide in the protests as of late afternoon.

The unrest followed a day of unrest on Thursday, when one of Lima’s most historic buildings burned to the ground, as President Dina Boluert vowed to crack down on “vandals”.

Officials described the destruction of a nearly century-old palace building in central Lima as a “monumental asset loss.” Authorities are investigating the cause.

Romero claimed on Friday that the fire was “properly planned and staged”.

Thousands of protesters descended on Lima this week calling for change and angered by the rising death toll from the protests, which officially stood at 45 on Friday.

Protests have rocked Peru since President Pedro Castillo was ousted in December after he tried to dissolve the legislature to prevent an impeachment vote.

Until this week the unrest was concentrated in the south of Peru.

In the Cusco region, Glencore’s ( GLEN.L ) main Antapac copper mine suspended operations on Friday after protesters stormed the premises – one of the country’s largest – for the third time this month.

Arequipa, Cusco and the southern city of Juliaca were also attacked by protesters, dealing a new blow to Peru’s tourism industry.

“It’s nationwide chaos, you can’t live like this. We’re in a terrible uncertainty – the economy, vandalism,” said Lima resident Leonardo Rojas.

The government has extended the state of emergency in six regions, curtailing some civil rights.

But Baluarte rejected calls for him to step down and hold a snap election, instead calling for dialogue and vowing to punish those involved in the unrest.

“All the rigors of the law will fall on the people who acted with vandalism,” Baluarte said Thursday.

Some locals pointed the finger at Bouluart, accusing him of not taking action to quell the protests, which began on December 7 in response to Castillo’s ouster and arrest.

Human rights groups have accused the police and army of using deadly weapons. Police say the protesters used weapons and homemade explosives.

Reporting by Marco Aquino; Written by Isabel Woodford; Edited by Bill Barkrot, Leslie Adler, and William Mallard

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