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At least 12 dead in anti-government protests in southern Peru


Peruvian police officers operate as demonstrators hold a protest demanding early elections and the release of Peruvian ousted leader Pedro Castillo, in Juliaca, Peru January 8, 2023. REUTERS/Hugo Courotto NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

At least 12 people died following clashes in Juliaca in southern Peru, the regional health ministry said on Monday, after a resumption of protests demanding early elections and the release of jailed former President Pedro Castillo.

The dead included two teenagers, the ministry said.

The latest casualties take the death toll from anti-government clashes with security forces to 34 since the protests began in early December following the removal and arrest of Castillo shortly after he tried to illegally dissolve Congress.

Castillo is serving 18 months of pre-trial detention on charges of rebellion, which he denies.

At least 38 people had been injured and hospitalized in Juliaca, the ministry added in a statement published on Facebook.

In Juliaca, near the banks of Lake Titicaca in Peru’s southern Puno region, a Reuters witness recorded footage of gunshots and smoke on the streets as protesters took cover behind large metal plates and road signs and threw rocks at police using improvised sling-shots.

Other footage showed people administering CPR to a man lying motionless on the ground in a blood-stained sweater, and people with severe injuries in a crowded hospital waiting room.

Peru’s Ombudsman Office said in a statement the police and armed forces should not be trying to resolve the conflicts, since doing so was the duty of Congress and the central government.

It called for police to comply with international standards in using force and for investigations into the deaths, while urging protestors to refrain from attacking property or impeding movement of ambulances.

Earlier on Monday, the office had said a newborn had died while being transferred from the town of Yunguyo to a local hospital in an ambulance that had been delayed by a road blockade.

The protests resumed last week after a holiday lull. Apart from early elections and the release of Castillo, protestors are calling for the resignation of new President Dina Boluarte, closure of Congress and changes to the constitution.

Speaking at a “national agreement” meeting earlier on Monday with representatives from the country’s regions and various political institutions, Boluarte said she could not grant some of the protesters’ key demands. She called for citizens to “reflect”.

“The only thing that was in my hands was moving forwards the elections, which we have already proposed,” she said. “What you are asking for is a pretext to continue generating chaos in the cities.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said it would conduct a visit to Peru from Wednesday to Friday, visiting Lima and other cities to evaluate the situation.