(BBC). LIMA, Peru–November 16th, 2020–Peru’s interim president has resigned, a day after two people died during protests against his government.
Manuel Merino, former speaker of Congress, had been in the post less than a week.
He replaced President Martín Vizcarra, who last Monday was removed in an impeachment procedure over bribery allegations, which he denies.
Politicians had called for Merino’s resignation after a violent crackdown on demonstrations against him.
Twelve ministers from his recently appointed cabinet resigned earlier on Sunday in protest against police brutality and his handling of the crisis.
Congress failed to agree a replacement for Merino when it met on Sunday, rejecting a team led by Rocío Silva Santisteban, a writer and former human rights activist.
A new list, made up of an interim president and senior politicians from across the spectrum, was being drafted.
Why were there protests?
Tens of thousands of demonstrators – many of them young – have been taking part in protests against Vizcarra’s removal in recent days.
They accuse Congress of staging a parliamentary coup. Vizcarra, 57, has enjoyed continued support among many voters for his attempts at reform.
Saturday’s protests in Lima were largely peaceful but clashes broke out towards the evening between police and protesters.
Police reportedly fired tear gas and shotgun pellets to repel demonstrators, some of whom had thrown fireworks and stones.
Two students, Jack Pintado, 22, and Inti Sotelo, 24, were killed in the protests.
“I want to let the whole country know that I’m resigning,” Mr Merino said in a televised address.
There are concerns of a growing political crisis as Peru faces a severe economic downturn brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Peru imposed one of the earliest and strictest lockdowns in Latin America to stop the spread of coronavirus – but has still seen cases rise rapidly.
It has so far reported nearly 935,000 infections and more than 35,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University – making it the country with the third highest rate of deaths per 100,000 people in the world.
Merino had been expected to retain the presidency until July 2021 – when Vizcarra’s term was due to end.
Vizcarra has been embroiled in a bitter battle with Congress, which is dominated by rival parties, since he took office in March 2018.
Peru has much at stake: The country is in the throes of one of the world’s most lethal coronavirus outbreaks and political analysts say the constitutional crisis has cast the country’s democracy into jeopardy.
“I think this is the most serious democratic and human rights crisis we have seen since Fujimori,” said analyst Alonso Gurmendi Dunkelberg, referring to the turbulent rule of strongman Alberto Fujimori from 1990 to 2000.
Congress kicked Vizcarra out using a clause dating back to the 19th century that allows the powerful legislature to remove a president for “permanent moral incapacity.”
Legislators accused Vizcarra of taking more than US$ 630,000 in bribes in exchange for two construction contracts while governor of a small province years ago.
Prosecutors are investigating the allegations but Vizcarra has not been charged. He has vehemently denied the accusations.
He has denied allegations that he accepted bribes worth 2.3m soles ($640,000; £487,000) when he was governor of the southern Moquegua region.
Half of those in Congress are themselves under investigation for alleged crimes including money laundering and homicide. Polls show most wanted Vizcarra to carry out the rest of his presidential term, due to expire in July.
As Peruvians took to the streets, police responded in traditional fashion with batons, rubber bullets and tear gas.