Peru’s interim president Manuel Merino resigns after five days

Peru’s interim president Manuel Merino resigned Sunday, after being in office for only five days. His decision followed nearly a week of violent protests in the country following the impeachment of former President Martin Vizcarra.

“I want to make it known to the whole country that I irrevocably present my resignation for the office of the presidency and I call for peace and unity for all Peruvians. My commitment is with Peru and I will do everything in my power to guarantee a constitutional succession and for Congress to determine in order for Peru to move forward,” Merino told the nation.

Peru’s Congress ousted President Martín Vizcarra on Monday in an impeachment vote over corruption allegations, prompting immediate tensions in the Andean nation.

Vizcarra said he would accept the Congress vote and would not take any legal action to counter it.

“Today I am leaving the presidential palace. Today I am going home,” Vizcarra said during a speech late on Monday, surrounded by his cabinet in the courtyard of the presidential residence in downtown Lima.

Head of Congress, Manuel Merino, an agronomist, and businessman from the minority Popular Action, is expected to assume the presidency on Tuesday and will remain in office until the end of July 2021, when Vizcarra’s term was due to expire.

Merino called for calm after the vote and assured Peruvians that the April 11 presidential election would go on as planned.

“It is already called for,” he said about the election in an interview with the local station América Televisión.

In the second effort by lawmakers to remove the centrist Vizcarra in a matter of months, the opposition-dominated Congress put forward 105 votes to oust him over accusations that as a governor he accepted bribes from companies that won public works contracts.

The 105 votes far exceeded the 87-vote threshold out of 130 needed to remove him from office. There were 19 votes against his ouster and four abstentions.

Vizcarra has rejected the corruption allegations as “baseless” and “false.” He warned of “unpredictable consequences” earlier on Monday if lawmakers impeached him ahead of the April 11 election, in which he is not eligible to run.

At least 27 people have been wounded in clashes between police and protestors as thousands of Peruvians took to the streets to demonstrate against the dismissal of President Martin Vizcarra, police and rights groups said on Friday.

The unrest over the last four nights, and other more peaceful protests in the capital Lima and other cities, are piling pressure on a fragmented Congress and the new government of President Manuel Merino.

On Thursday night, police used tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters, some of whom threw rocks at police and destroyed store windows and cash machines. The demonstrations were among the largest in two decades in Peru.

Merino, a member of the center-right Popular Action party who had been the head of Congress, swore in his new cabinet on Thursday and called for calm.

Peru’s National Human Rights Coordinator said 11 people wounded on Thursday, including some journalists. A Lima hospital said at least two people had been injured by rubber bullets. Police put the number at 27, including injured officers.

“All of Peru is fired up, we’re all very angry,” said Jose Vega, a protester in Lima.

Some carried banners comparing Merino to the coronavirus pandemic and saying he did not represent them.

“They treat us poorly. We’ve only come to protest against injustice,” Vega said. “We are all feeling pain. So, I’m saying to everyone let’s not give up.”

Interior Minister Gastón Rodríguez denied reports that the police had used lethal weapons and said that they had only fired tear gas and rubber bullets when a protest had got out of hand.

“The reaction of the police occurs when there is an attack on public property or when there is a direct attack as happened yesterday,” he told reporters.

Police said the protest had left 16 civilians injured, mostly by rubber bullets, and 11 policemen were also injured.

Protesters, opposition parties and civil society called Vizcarra’s ouster a legislative coup and refused to recognize Merino as the new president. Among those who called for Merino’s resignation was the mayor of Lima Jorge Muñoz, Nobel Prize winner and influential Peruvian figure Mario Vargas Llosa, and the Peruvian National Assembly of Regional Governors.

Merino became Peru’s third president in less than five years. Vizcarra took office in 2018 after former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned amid corruption allegations and impending impeachment. Vizcarra was Kuczynski’s Vice President.

In his final address Sunday, Merino said all Cabinet members had presented resignation offers as the crisis unfolded, but that he intends to keep ministers in place until the situation is cleared in order to avoid creating a power vacuum. At least eight Cabinet ministers were confirmed to have resigned between Saturday and Sunday according to state press agency Andina.

Following Merino’s resignation, Congress called for a plenary session on Sunday to discuss the appointment of the next president. Presidential elections are scheduled for April of next year.