Peru grapples with ‘nationwide chaos’ as protests spread

Riot police takes position during a protest against the government of President Dina Boluarte, in Lima on Jan 20, 2023. (ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP)

LIMA – Tensions flared again in Peru on Friday night as police clashed with protesters in capital Lima in anti-government demonstrations that are spreading across the country.

Police officers used tear gas to repel demonstrators throwing glass bottles and stones, as fires burned in the streets, local TV footage showed.

Residents awoke on Friday morning to find one of the city's most historic buildings burnt to the ground during a night of tumult, as the president vowed to get tougher on "vandals"

The unrest paused for a short-lived respite on Friday after clashes between protesters and police on Thursday night.

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Residents awoke on Friday morning to find one of the city's most historic buildings burnt to the ground during a night of tumult, as the president vowed to get tougher on "vandals."

The destruction of the building, a near-century-old mansion in central Lima, was described by officials as the loss of a "monumental asset." Authorities are investigating the causes.

It came after thousands of protesters descended on the city earlier this week calling for change and angered by the protests' mounting death toll, which rose to 45 on Thursday.

Protests have rocked Peru since President Pedro Castillo was ousted in December after he attempted to dissolve the legislature to prevent an impeachment vote.

The unrest has until this week been concentrated in Peru's south.

ALSO READ: Peru: At least 17 dead in anti-government protests

In the Cusco region, Glencore's major Antapaccay copper mine suspended operations on Friday after protesters attacked the premises – one of the largest in the country – for the third time this month.

Airports in Arequipa, Cusco and the southern city of Juliaca were also attacked by demonstrators this week, delivering a fresh blow to Peru's tourism industry.

Demonstrators light a fire at the AƱashuayco bridge, near the Rodriguez Ballon airport, in Arequipa, Peru, during a protest against the government of President Dina Boluarte and to demand her resignation on Jan 20, 2023. (DIEGO RAMOS / AFP)

"It's nationwide chaos, you can't live like this. We are in a terrible uncertainty — the economy, vandalism," said Lima resident Leonardo Rojas.

The government has extended a state of emergency to six regions, curtailing some civil rights.

But President Dina Boluarte has dismissed calls for her to resign and hold snap elections, instead calling for dialogue and promising to punish those involved in the unrest.

READ MORE: Thousands march in Peru capital demanding president step down

"All the rigor of the law will fall on those people who have acted with vandalism," Boluarte said on Thursday.

Some locals pointed the finger at Boluarte for "not taking any action" to quell the protests, which began on Dec 7 in response to the ouster and arrest of Castillo.

Human rights groups have accused the police and army of using deadly firearms. The police say protesters have used weapons and homemade explosives.