Peruvian President Dina Boluarte insisted Friday she will not step down, after another day of protests and roadblocks throughout the country saw calls for her resignation and the arrest of a trade union leader with supposed links to Maoist rebels.
Supporters of ousted president Pedro Castillo have marched and barricaded streets around the South American country since December, demanding new elections and the removal of Boluarte, his successor and former vice president.
“Some voices that have come from the violent and radical factions are asking for my resignation, provoking the population into chaos, disorder and destruction,” Boluarte said in an address broadcast on state TV Friday night.
“I will not resign. My commitment is with Peru.”
Boluarte lamented that the protests have at times turned violent, as at least 42 people have been killed in clashes with security forces, including a police officer burned alive in a vehicle, while hundreds more have been injured.
“I cannot stop reiterating my regret for the deaths of Peruvians in these protests,” she said. “I apologize for this situation.”
But she rejected the possibility of calling a constitutional assembly as demanded by protestors, pointing to the difficulties Peru’s neighbor Chile has had in drafting and approving a new constitution.
“That cannot happen overnight,” Boluarte added.
Earlier on Friday, police in Peru announced the arrest of Rocio Leandro, a union leader from the south-central Ayacucho region with supposed links to Maoist rebels, who is accused of financing protests and recruiting demonstrators.
Police spokesman Oscar Arriola claimed the arrest of Leandro proved that remnants of the Shining Path Maoist rebels were involved in the protests.
Arriola claimed Leandro was a former Shining Path member known as “Comrade Cusi.”
Roadblocks and border closures
Protests and roadblocks have been registered in the capital Lima, and several southern and Andean regions.
Authorities say there are roadblocks in 10 of the country’s 25 departments.
A protest in the border city of Tacna, 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) southeast of Lima, led neighbor Chile to temporarily close the crossing between the two countries.
The city of Arequipa in the south — the second-largest in the country and one of Peru’s main tourist hotspots — had been practically blocked off from all transport links with the neighboring regions of Cusco and Puno.
On Thursday, authorities closed air and rail links to Peru’s famed Machu Picchu tourist site for the second time as protests flared up leading to clashes with police.
Several regional governors and professional associations, including lawyers and teachers, joined the calls for Boluarte to resign.
“How many more deaths will Dina Boluarte’s presence in the presidency cost?” asked Puno governor Richard Hancco, whose southern department has become the epicenter of clashes between protesters and security forces.
That region, close to the border with Bolivia, was where 18 people died following violent clashes on Monday night.
“No position can be above human life,” said Hancco.
Opposition legislator Susel Paredes told local radio that time was running out for Boluarte and that the resignation of labor minister Eduardo Garcia on Thursday was “the beginning of the end” for the president.
Two other ministers resigned Friday, with the head of the Ministry of the Interior Victor Rojas and the head of the Ministry of Women Grecia Rojas immediately replaced by retired general Vicente Romero and Nancy Tolentino, respectively, at a swearing-in ceremony with Boluarte.
Garcia’s replacement Luis Alfonso Adrianzen was also installed.
Peru has been riddled with political instability in recent years.
Boluarte, 60, is the sixth person to hold the presidency in five years.
Castillo, who was being investigated in several fraud cases during his tenure, has been remanded in custody for 18 months, charged with rebellion.