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As protests continue in Peru, no clear solution emerges

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Protesters and police continue to clash in cities around Peru as anti-government demonstrators step up their demands for the current president to resign. Yesterday, officers in Lima raided a university where protesters had taken refuge, arresting hundreds. Police stations were attacked in several cities in the country, and authorities closed the Incan citadel of Machu Picchu after train service to the site was damaged. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, there doesn't seem to be a quick solution in the works to end the unrest.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOUTING)

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Police in riot gear block angry protesters from entering San Marcos National University, the oldest higher education institute in the Americas. Just minutes before, an armored vehicle rammed open a metal gate, allowing officers wielding batons and riot shields to rush in.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: Protesters shout that officers are abusing their authority and to let the protesters go. Shortly after, half a dozen packed buses leave the university with a police escort. Most of those arrested came to Lima from the rural south to demand the current president, Dina Boluarte, resign, and they'd been staying on the campus for days.

MARIA ESCOBAR: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: Maria Escobar lives across the street from the university and had been bringing the protesters food and water. The middle school teacher says their demands have grown beyond the resignation of Boluarte. Calls now are for justice for the more than 50 people who have died since protests broke out last December. That's when the former president, Pedro Castillo, a political newcomer, was impeached. Castillo had tried to dissolve Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

KAHN: Protesters on the streets of Lima for a third consecutive night are now calling for major political changes, too. They want snap elections and a new constitution. Boluarte says she's not going anywhere and has called the protesters vandals. She's vowed a crackdown. Fernando Franco, a psychologist who came to protest with his wife, says Peru's political system is broken.

FERNANDO FRANCO: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: "Political parties in Peru are very weak. They're just one person looking out for themselves - nothing formal at all," he says. Peru does hold regular elections, but in the last five years, six presidents have come and gone. Many past presidents have faced corruption charges, and some are in jail. Analysts blame increasing polarization and political rules that too easily allow Congress to remove a president. Eric Farnsworth with the Council of the Americas in Washington, D.C., says while Peru has its peculiarities, democracies throughout the hemisphere are under pressure.

ERIC FARNSWORTH: Similar issues are affecting the populace, which seems to be deeply distressed and even cynical about whether democracy can improve their lives in a meaningful way.

KAHN: Half of all Peruvians say democracy is not working for them. Mirtha Vasquez, who was a prime minister in Castillo's recent government, says the inequality gap keeps growing and the pandemic only made things worse. Too many people are being left behind, she says.

MIRTHA VASQUEZ: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: "Equality in even the most basic things doesn't happen in Peru." And she says there is a historic neglect by the state, and that's what the protesters are demanding get fixed.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Lima, Peru. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.
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