Manuel Merino announces resignation after a night of protests demanding his removal left two dead, dozens wounded.
Peru’s interim president, Manuel Merino, has resigned less than a week into his new administration, after a night of protests calling for his removal and a subsequent police crackdown left at least two dead and dozens wounded.
“I want to let the whole country know that I’m resigning,” Merino said in a televised address on Sunday. He added the move was “irrevocable” and called for “peace and unity”.
Merino assumed the presidency on Tuesday after the opposition-dominated Congress voted to remove his predecessor Martin Vizcarra over bribery allegations. Vizcarra has denied any wrongdoing.
Protesters have since decried Merino’s rise to power, accusing the legislature of staging a parliamentary coup. The unrest had been largely peaceful until Saturday night, with Peru’s Ombudsman warning on Twitter late Saturday that security forces had begun “misusing force and throwing tear gas without justification” against young protesters who had gathered in the center of the capital city of Lima.
Merino’s resignation followed a groundswell of politicians urging him to step down, citing the violence against the country’s citizens.
The current head of Congress, Luis Valdez said earlier on Sunday that all of the legislature’s political parties had agreed to ask for the “immediate” resignation.
“We should put above all else the lives of the Peruvian people,” said Valdez, who himself plans to resign.
Valdez had said the legislature would begin an impeachment process if Merino did not willingly leave office.
Hours before Saturday’s violence, protesters had gathered in Lima’s central Plaza San Martin, where they unfurled a massive Peruvian flag and sang the national anthem.
“We want the voice of the people to be heard,” protester Fernando Ramirez told the Associated Press news agency on Saturday night as he banged a spoon against a pot.
“The march is not for Vizcarra to return, it is strictly against Merino. We are tired of corruption, of the usual politicians who divide and impose their personal interests,” Cesar Anchante, a University of Lima graduate who marched in a rally Saturday, told Reuters news agency.
Following the crackdown by security forces, human rights groups reported on Sunday that 112 people had been hurt and the whereabouts of 41 others remained unknown.
Health authorities said the dead included Jack Pintado, 22, who was shot 11 times, including in the head, and Jordan Sotelo, 24, who was hit four times in the thorax near his heart.
Ousted president Vizcarra blamed the violence on repression by Merino’s “illegal and illegitimate government”.
“The country will not allow the deaths of these brave young men to go unpunished,” Vizcarra wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Peruvian writer and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa condemned the violence in a video posted on Twitter.
“Two young people were absurdly, stupidly, unjustly sacrificed by the police,” he said. “This repression – which is against all of Peru – needs to stop.”
Celebrations amid political uncertainty
Peruvians poured onto the streets to celebrate Merino’s resignation on Sunday, waving flags, chanting and banging pots. But despite the ebullient atmosphere, the announcement is all but assurred to plunge Peru deeper into uncertainty and legal disarray as legislators wrestle with who will take his place.
The political shakeup comes as Peru battles the coronavirus pandemic and what is expected to be its worst economic contraction in a century.
Before his resignation, Merino, a little-known politician and rice farmer, had maintained the legality of his rise power after Congress kicked out Vizcarra using a clause dating to the 19th century that allows the powerful legislature to remove a president for “permanent moral incapacity”.
Legislators accused Vizcarra, a politically unaffiliated centrist, of poorly handling the pandemic and held up unproven accusations that he took more than $630,000 in bribes in exchange for two construction contracts while he served as the governor of a small province in southern Peru years ago.
While prosecutors are investigating the allegations, Vizcarra has not been charged. A judge barred him from leaving the country for 18 months Friday.