By Paula BUSTAMANTE
Violent new street protests gripped downtown Lima Saturday night, hours after a Roman Catholic cardinal voiced dismay that the nation’s Congress again declined to advance elections to defuse Peru’s political crisis.
Thousands of protesters skirmished with riot police once night fell, scattering amid tear gas volleys but regrouping in an effort to reach Peru’s Congress.
In the latest of two months of often-lethal protests, some demonstrators fired back at police with homemade fireworks.
A tally of arrests and injuries was not immediately available.
Peru’s legislature, meanwhile, received a rebuke from a top Roman Catholic prelate.
“It hurts our souls that they have (not acted on) a proposal to move up elections,” Cardinal Pedro Barreto said, hours after the church’s highest ecclesiastical body sent a letter to legislators warning them that it was “urgent” to move up elections to later this year.
Congress a day earlier slammed the door until August on any further debate to bring forward general elections currently slated for April 2024 into 2023 — a key demand of near-daily demonstrations that are crippling the country of 33 million people.
For the fourth time in a week, legislators rejected a bill on advancing elections, blocking further debate on procedural technicalities.
The move dimmed prospects for an avenue out of the crisis, which has claimed 48 lives since December 7, when then-president Pedro Castillo was arrested after attempting to dissolve Congress and rule by decree.
In December, lawmakers moved elections, originally due in 2026, up to April 2024, but as protesters dug in their heels, Boluarte, Castillo’s former vice president, called for holding the vote this year instead.
Boluarte’s original intention was to fulfil Castillo’s term into 2026, but amid the explosion of protests she exhorted Congress to move up the date.