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“Ambushed“ police officer dies in burning car in Peru after 17 killed in protests

2023-01-10T16:16:31Z

LIMA (Reuters) -Peru’s political crisis deepened on Tuesday as a police officer died in his torched car after 17 civilians were killed in protests a day earlier, all triggered by the contentious ouster of President Pedro Castillo last month.

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FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators clash with security forces during a protest demanding early elections and the release of jailed former President Pedro Castillo, near the Juliaca airport, in Juliaca, Peru January 9, 2023. REUTERS/Hugo Courotto NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

Raul Alfaro, a senior police commander, told reporters that a mob “ambushed” the police officer’s vehicle in the city of Juliaca in the southern Andes region of Puno, and then proceeded to beat him and other officers while disarming them.

“They burned him alive,” said Alfaro.

Police have launched an investigation to identify those responsible, he said. An interior ministry official said earlier on Tuesday that an autopsy was being carried on the body of the officer, identified as Jose Luis Soncco.

Another police officer suffered multiple head injuries during the attack, according to the interior ministry.

Tuesday marked the start of a three-day mourning period in parts of southern Peru, including Puno, after 17 people were killed on Monday in the most lethal day of protests since the leftist Castillo was ousted by lawmakers after he illegally sought to dissolve Congress.

Since protests began in early December, at least 40 people have died in the unrest, while hundreds more have been injured.

In a statement on Tuesday, Peru’s ombudsman office urged peaceful protests as well as for prosecutors to fully investigate the deaths.

The office noted the “extreme violence” of Soncco’s death, claiming he was tortured before he died, while also condemning an arson attack on a congressman’s Puno residence with family members still inside.

Prime Minister Alberto Otarola appeared in Congress on Tuesday, asking lawmakers to approve a vote of confidence for the cabinet of President Dina Boluarte, which is needed to lead a new government. Debate continued on the measure as of Tuesday evening.

Otarola blamed organized attackers financed by “dark” money for those killed on Monday. Beyond the deaths, another 68 civilians and 75 police officers were reported injured, according to the ombudsman.

Later on Tuesday, Otarola announced a three-day overnight curfew in Puno, aimed at quelling the violence. Footage from local media showed looting of Puno businesses on Monday night, while Juliaca’s airport remained shut on Tuesday.

Protesters demand the resignation of Boluarte, the dissolution of Congress, changes to the constitution and Castillo’s release.

Castillo has been ordered to remain in pre-trial detention while he is investigated for fomenting rebellion, a charge he denies. The former rural teacher who served less than two years of his term before his removal says he remains Peru’s lawful president.

On Twitter, Castillo wrote that those killed for “defending the country from the coup dictatorship” will never be forgotten.

Later this week, an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights mission will visit Peru to assess the situation. The United Nations has meanwhile urged respect for human rights and offered to mediate the crisis.