Thousands of protesters descended on the Peruvian capital Lima on Thursday including many from the mostly indigenous south, angry at the mounting death toll from over a month of protests and calling for political change. According to a police estimate there were 3,500 people protesting, but some claimed that the actual figure was more than double that.
Police in riot gear faced off against rock-throwing protesters as one historic building in the historic centre of Lima caught fire on Thursday.
A firefighter commander told local radio that the building on San Martin Plaza was empty when the blaze erupted for unknown reasons.
Interior Minister Vicente Romero rejected claims circulating on social media that the blaze had been caused by a police officer’s tear gas grenade.
Speaking alongside President Dina Boluarte and other government ministers on Thursday evening Prime Minister Alberto Otarola fumed at the protesters.
He said: “This has not been a protest; this has been a sabotage of the rule of law.”
Over the past month there have been frequent violent and sometimes deadly protests as many in poorer, rural regions have vented their anger at the Limsa establishment at the ouster of left wing President Pedro Castillo who had a string support base upon the indigenous population.
Protesters are demanding the resignation of President Boluarte, snap elections and a new constitution to replace the pro-market one embedded by right-wing strongman Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s.
On Thursday many protesters arrived in Lima by bus or on foot with flags and banners furious at the government and police for deadly clashes in the southern cities of Ayacucho and Juliaca.
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President Boluarte has asked for “forgiveness” for the protest deaths but protest banners have branded her a “murderer”.
Human rights groups have argued that the police and army have used deadly firearms to combat the protests.
Police have claimed that protesters have used weapons and homemade explosives.