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Peruvian Protests Lead to Clashes

A student is killed as troops trying to enforce a state of emergency confront activists.

May 30, 2003|Hector Tobar | Times Staff Writer

RIO DE JANEIRO — At least one university student was killed and dozens were wounded Thursday as army troops trying to enforce a national state of emergency in Peru opened fire on protesters in the southern city of Puno.

The violence came on the second day of emergency measures taken by President Alejandro Toledo to quell the demonstrations and strikes that threaten the stability of his increasingly unpopular government.

Many striking teachers refused to return to work, and riot police evicted hundreds from an encampment in front of the Congress in the capital, Lima, early Thursday.

Officials said 12 of Peru's 24 provinces would remain under military control. Under the decree Toledo issued Wednesday, civil liberties, including the right to assembly, are suspended. Toledo said the measures were a last resort to "protect citizens and public order."

Although striking health workers, transport workers and others returned to work, thousands of others defied the emergency measures in scattered protests across the South American country.

Defense Minister Aurelio Loret de Mola said his troops "acted with responsibility and great prudence, but with decisiveness and firmness." He said that authorities had cleared most of the 64 roadblocks set up by protesters across the country, many of which had shut down the Pan-American Highway, Peru's main north-south thoroughfare.

But in Puno, David Jimenez, president of the province of the same name, asked authorities to remove army troops from the streets of the provincial capital after they opened fire on students who had defied the state of emergency.

"We are confused and angry with the way the army has acted," Jimenez told RPP Radio. He said many of the injured had suffered gunshot wounds and were in serious condition.

"We hadn't gone one block before the police opened fire on the mass of students," Ernesto Tapia, president of a national student association, told Peruvian radio. "I don't think ... a state of emergency justifies using firearms against students protesting peacefully."

Disturbances were also reported Thursday in the northern city of Trujillo, where thousands of protesters faced off against soldiers in the downtown Plaza de Armas. In Huancayo, east of Lima, dozens of soldiers raided a stadium that had been taken over by striking teachers.

Education Minister Gerardo Ayzanoa said teachers who did not return to work by Monday would be fired and replaced. "We've run out of patience," he said. The teachers are demanding wage increases.

Toledo took office in 2001 in the wake of the scandals and protests that drove strongman President Alberto Fujimori from power. But many Peruvians see him as a weak leader, and his popularity in most polls stands at 20% or lower.

"The state of emergency does not address the deeper problems, the conditions in which our teachers, police and agricultural laborers must work," opposition leader Alan Garcia said. "The country is in a state of misery and poverty."

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