Peruvian President Dina Boluarte has apologised for dozens of deaths in protests that have broken out across the country in recent weeks, but insisted that she will not step down.
Speaking to the nation in a late night address on Friday, Boluarte lamented the violence that has killed more than 40 people since December – mostly protesters during clashes with security forces, but also a police officer burned alive in a vehicle – and injured hundreds more police and demonstrators.
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“Some voices that have come from the violent and radical factions are asking for my resignation, provoking the population into chaos, disorder and destruction,” Boluarte said in the address.
“I will not resign. My commitment is with Peru,” she said.
“I cannot stop reiterating my regret for the deaths of Peruvians in these protests,” she said.
“I apologise for this situation.”
Protests have gripped the South American nation since former President Pedro Castillo was removed from office in December and detained after he tried to illegally dissolve Congress. He was replaced in the president’s position by Boluarte, who was vice president.
Boluarte also rejected the possibility of calling a constitutional assembly as demanded by protesters, pointing to the difficulties Peru’s neighbour Chile has had in drafting and approving a new constitution.
“That cannot happen overnight,” she said.
Supporters of the former president have marched and barricaded streets around the country for weeks, demanding that new elections be held and for Boluarte to step down.
Earlier on Friday, police announced the arrest of Rocio Leandro, a union leader from the south-central Ayacucho region with supposed links to Maoist rebels, who is accused of financing the protests and recruiting demonstrators.
Police spokesman Oscar Arriola claimed the arrest of Leandro proved that remnants of the Shining Path Maoist rebels were involved in the protests. Arriola claimed Leandro was a former Shining Path member known as “Comrade Cusi”.
Authorities reported that protesters continue to mount roadblocks in 10 of the country’s 25 departments. On Thursday, authorities closed air and rail links to Peru’s famed Machu Picchu tourist site for the second day as protests flared up leading to clashes with police.
Several regional governors and professional associations, including lawyers and teachers, have joined the calls for Boluarte to resign.
Opposition legislator Susel Paredes told local radio that time was running out for Boluarte and that the resignation of Labour Minister Eduardo Garcia on Thursday was “the beginning of the end” for the president.
Two other ministers resigned on Friday, with the head of the Ministry of the Interior, Victor Rojas, and the head of the Ministry of Women, Grecia Rojas, immediately replaced by retired general Vicente Romero and Nancy Tolentino, respectively, at a swearing-in ceremony with Boluarte.
Peru has been riddled with political instability in recent years. Boluarte, 60, is the sixth person to hold the presidency in five years.
Castillo, who was being investigated in several fraud cases during his tenure, has been remanded in custody for 18 months, charged with rebellion.