Tourists evacuated after Peru closes Machu Picchu amid protests

European Union decries ‘disproportionate’ police response to the deadly unrest as protester death toll rises to 45.

Peru has closed its famed historical site Machu Picchu amid deadly anti-government protests, stranding hundreds of tourists for hours, as the European Union decried what it called a “disproportionate” police response to the unrest.

The closure on Saturday came as officials announced that another protester had been killed, raising the total death toll to 46 since demonstrators took to the streets in early December demanding the resignation of newly appointed Peruvian President Dina Boluarte.

The latest death occurred in the town of Ilave in the south.

Video footage from Ilave that was widely shared on social media shows police shooting right at a crowd of Indigenous demonstrators in the town square. Enraged protesters responded by setting fire to a police station, local media reported.

Clashes between police and the crowd in the town near Lake Titicaca and the border with Bolivia left 10 people injured, hospital officials said.

Amid the unrest, the Ministry of Culture said it was ordering the closure of the Inca trails network and the Machu Picchu citadel “due to the social situation and to preserve the safety of visitors”.

Prior to the closing of Machu Picchu, rail services to the site had already been suspended due to damage to the track by demonstrators. The only way to get up to the popular tourist site is by train.

At least 400 people, including 300 foreigners, were stranded at the foot of the site, in the town of Aguas Calientes, and pleading to be evacuated.

Rescue teams later evacuated 418 tourists, the tourism ministry said in a Twitter post accompanied by pictures of a train and seated travellers.

The weeks of unrest followed a failed attempt by former President Pedro Castillo in December to dissolve Congress and rule by decree, a move condemned by the constitutional court as a “coup d’etat”.

Castillo was impeached and arrested, and his deputy Boluarte ascended to the presidency, becoming the sixth person to assume the role in five years.

The rapid-fire series of events was met with outrage from supporters of Castillo, whose unlikely rise from an elementary school teacher and son of illiterate farmers to the country’s president made him a folk icon among many low-income Peruvians. Experts have said a long history of exclusion in the country created fertile ground for the demonstrations.

In recent days, demonstrators have repeatedly defied declarations of a state of emergency in violence-racked regions to take to the streets.

Police arrested 205 people accused of illegally entering the campus of a major Lima university.

Alfonso Barrenechea, with the crime prevention division of the prosecutor’s office, told local radio station RPP that the arrests at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos were made for illegally trespassing on the university’s premises and for allegedly stealing electronic goods.

The EU condemned the government’s response to the unrest, saying police had used “disproportionate force” against protesters.

“The EU calls on the government and all political actors to take urgent steps to restore calm and ensure an inclusive dialogue with the participation of civil society and affected communities as the way out of the crisis,” the 27-member block said in a statement.

“The ongoing social and political crises should be addressed in full respect of the constitutional order, the rule of law, and human rights,” it added.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies