Two protesters have been killed in massive pro-democracy demonstrations in Peru, the first deaths in nearly a week of unrest over the controversial removal of Martín Vizcarra as president and his replacement by a de facto government, seen by many Peruvians as a coup.
Protests have mounted demanding the resignation of Manuel Merino, the former speaker of congress who was sworn in as president on Tuesday, with tens of thousands of people filling the streets of Lima and dozens of towns and cities.
Jorge Amoros, the manager of Lima’s Guillermo Almenara hospital, confirmed on Saturday that one of the dead had apparently been shot at close range with a police firearm.
“He had multiple wounds in the upper third of the thorax, face and neck, apparently from buckshot,” Amoros confirmed.
A second male deceased was also reported to have died from wounds caused by a firearm.
Police detained at least 30 protesters on Saturday amid multiple reports of heavy-handed repression against largely peaceful demonstrators. The health ministry reported that more than 30 people were being treated for injuries.
Images from the massive protests on Saturday showed tanks, hundreds of riot police and clouds of teargas being used against protesters, as well as helicopters flying overhead in downtown Lima.
“There was irrational, abusive use of force in Lima. I demand that the president of the republic shows his face and gives explanations to the country,” said Peru’s human rights ombudsman, Walter Gutiérrez.
Erika Guevara, Americas director for Amnesty International, said: “We demand an end to the repression and the investigation and punishment for all the human rights violations which are being registered.”
The current speaker of congress, Luis Valdéz, called a multi-party meeting for Sunday morning to discuss Merino’s resignation, according to the twitter account of the Peruvian congress.
As the news of the first death spread, spontaneous pot-banging protests known as cacerolazos and shouts of “Merino Out” spread through neighourhoods in Lima. The abrupt replacement of the popular president by Merino, a little-known politician with a questionable track record, has caused uproar across the Peruvian capital, sparking some of the largest demonstrations in more than a decade.
George Forsyth, the leading presidential candidate, demanded Merino’s immediate resignation, saying in a tweet that his “hands were stained with blood”. He said that the congress should choose a new president from the 19 lawmakers who voted against Vizcarra’s impeachment over unproven bribery allegations. Out of 130 members of congress, 105 voted to remove the centrist leader on Monday.
The former president expressed his sadness over the deaths. “I deeply regret the deaths caused by the repression of this illegal and illegitimate government,” Vizcarra wrote.
“My condolences to the families of these civil heroes who, exercising their right, went out in defence of democracy and in search of a better country. The country will not allow the death of these brave young people to go unpunished.”