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Peru's Interim President Resigns After A Tumultuous Week Of Protests

Protesters gather outside Congress in Lima, Peru, after interim President Manuel Merino announced his resignation following massive protests unleashed when lawmakers ousted President Martín Vizcarra.
Rodrigo Abd
Protesters gather outside Congress in Lima, Peru, after interim President Manuel Merino announced his resignation following massive protests unleashed when lawmakers ousted President Martín Vizcarra.

Updated 4:30 p.m. ET Monday

Less than one week after assuming the office of the presidency, Manuel Merino has stepped down as interim president of Peru.

Peru's Congress has elected legislator Francisco Sagasti as the country's interim president, Reuters reports. Sagasti, a member of the centrist Morado Party, will serve as Peru's president until the nation's elections in April 2021. He received 97 votes in favor and 26 against.

Sagasti will be the country's third president in a week.

The move caps a week of political turmoil that has embroiled the country since former President Martín Vizcarra was removed by legislators Nov. 9. Merino, who was head of Congress, took his place the next day — and faced immediate opposition from Peruvians who refused to recognize his authority.

After Merino quit Monday, congressional leaders initially nominated Rocío Silva-Santisteban, a lawyer and poet from the leftist Broad Front party who would have become the country's first female president — but she received just 42 votes, The Associated Press reports.

"The main thing for Peru is to regain stability and for this nightmare to end," legislator Alberto de Belaunde, from Sagasti's Morado Party, told Reuters before the Monday vote.

Merino initially promised that voters could make their voices heard during April's presidential election. But the unrest continued, coming to a head on Saturday when two protesters were killed by police. By Sunday, most of Merino's Cabinet had resigned, and Congress asked him to resign.

"Nothing justifies that a legitimate protest should trigger the death of Peruvians," Merino said in a video address resigning the presidency. He called for the "peace and unity of all Peruvians."

Ex-President Vizcarra has asked the country's highest court to weigh in. "It can't be that the institution that got us into this political crisis, that has for five days paralyzed Peru, with deaths, is going to give us a solution, choosing the person who they best see fit," Vizcarra said, according to The Associated Press.

Vizcarra made several political enemies during his two years in office, as he worked to combat corruption throughout the country's legislature. Half of the lawmakers are under investigation or indictment for alleged crimes including money laundering and homicide.

Last week, lawmakers invoked a seldom-used clause of the country's constitution to remove the president for "moral incapacity," and accused him of accepting more than $630,000 in bribes as governor of a local province some years ago. Vizcarra denies the charges.

As Vizcarra's replacement, Merino promised to unite the country, but faced immediate backlash from detractors who thought the legislature had essentially staged a coup. The past week has seen some of the biggest street protests in decades. In addition to the two who were killed, more than a hundred people were reported hurt, and dozens are missing.

The country's constitutional court has directed the national police force to "immediately locate, identify and secure" more than 40 people who "disappeared" during the recent protests. And the Americas division director of Human Rights Watch says a team of investigators is documenting cases of police abuse in Peru.

"I deeply regret the deaths that have occurred as a result of the repression of this illegal and illegitimate government," former president Vizcarra said early Sunday on Twitter. "My condolences to the relatives of these civil heroes who, exercising their right, came out in defense of democracy and in search of a better country."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Matthew S. Schwartz is a reporter with NPR's news desk. Before coming to NPR, Schwartz worked as a reporter for Washington, DC, member station WAMU, where he won the national Edward R. Murrow award for feature reporting in large market radio. Previously, Schwartz worked as a technology reporter covering the intricacies of Internet regulation. In a past life, Schwartz was a Washington telecom lawyer. He got his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and his B.A. from the University of Michigan ("Go Blue!").
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