Peru’s interim president resigns after deadly protest

Peru’s interim president, Manuel Merino, has resigned less than a week into his new administration, after a night of protests calling for his removal and a subsequent police crackdown left at least two dead and dozens wounded.

The latest political shake-up comes as Peru battles the coronavirus pandemic and what is expected to be its worst economic contraction in a century.

People poured into the streets to celebrate Merino’s departure on Sunday, waving flags, chanting and banging pots, although the news plunges Peru deeper into uncertainty and legal disarray as legislators now wrestle over who will take his place.

Congress is expected to hold a second vote in the evening after a first vote failed to garner majority support for left-wing legislator and human rights defender Rocio Silva-Santisteban to be designated interim president.

A tense calm prevailed in the capital, Lima, as Peruvians awaited a decision on who the next president would be.

“Merino has resigned because his hands are stained with blood, with the blood of our children,” said Clarisa Gomez, one of those who turned out to celebrate Merino’s departure, while adding that the legislators who put him in power should also pay.

The opposition-dominated Congress voted last Monday to remove Merino’s predecessor Martin Vizcarra as president, over bribery accusations which he denies.

In a televised speech, Merino, the former head of Congress who had led the push to impeach Vizcarra, asked his cabinet to stay on to help in the transition.

“I want to let the whole country know that I’m resigning,” Merino said in Sunday’s address. He added the move was “irrevocable” and called for “peace and unity”.

Merino’s resignation followed a groundswell of politicians urging him to step down, citing the violence against the country’s citizens.

The current head of Congress, Luis Valdez said earlier on Sunday that all of the legislature’s political parties had agreed to ask for the “immediate” resignation.

“We should put above all else the lives of the Peruvian people,” said Valdez, who himself plans to resign.

Valdez had said the legislature would begin an impeachment process if Merino did not willingly leave office.