As more unrest looms, Peru leader calls for calm

With Peru's capital bracing for two days of anti-government protests starting Wednesday, President Dina Boluarte called on the demonstrators flooding into Lima to gather "peacefully and calmly" -- even as they demand her resignation.

The South American country has been rocked by over five weeks of deadly protests since the ouster and arrest of her predecessor Pedro Castillo in early December.

Thousands of protesters from rural areas are descending on Lima this week to keep up pressure against the government, often defying a state of emergency declared to try to maintain order.

With tensions mounting, many poor and Indigenous demonstrators were already making their presence felt Tuesday in the capital, where police used smoke canisters against marchers who gathered ahead of the larger mobilizations.

"We know they want to take Lima, given everything that is coming out on social media, on the 18th and 19th (Wednesday and Thursday)," Boluarte said in a speech at Peru's Constitutional Court.

"I call on them to take Lima, yes, but peacefully and calmly. I am waiting for them in the seat of government to discuss their social agendas."

Convoys of demonstrators were still on their way.

Hundreds of members of the Indigenous Aymara community boarded buses Tuesday from Ilave city in the Puno region, on the border with Bolivia.

"I am excited to travel to Lima because the fight continues, all the Aymara blood brothers are traveling to the fight," Julio Cesar Ramos told AFP before boarding one of the buses.

"It hurts me to see my country like this, that is why Aymara and Quechua brothers, we are united as one," said Roger Mamani, 28.

At least 42 people have died in clashes between protesters and security forces, largely in the country's south and east, according to Peru's human rights ombudsman.

Various groups are demanding Boluarte's resignation, the dissolution of parliament and immediate elections.

But the president warned that "the rule of law cannot be hostage to the whims" of a single group of people.

- Rival marches -

Demonstrators from all over Peru have arranged to meet in the capital to protest together, but despite various announcements, it is still difficult to determine how many people will arrive in Lima.

By Tuesday afternoon, dozens of people were already marching through Lima's streets to Plaza San Martin, the historic epicenter of demonstrations.

"All of us who have come from the city of Cusco are joining the national strike. Dina Boluarte should leave because she does not represent the coast, the mountains, or the jungle," said teacher Edith Calixto, 45 from the Andes.

Residents of the northern city of Cajamarca carried signs that read "National Insurgency." Some held "rondero" whips of the type used by local patrols in rural areas.

"Dina, please, resign so that this town calms down because the town is not going to give up," Antonia Riveros, a 55-year-old native of Huancavelica, said.

Meanwhile a "march for peace" was also underway in Lima, with dozens of members from community groups and political parties wearing white T-shirts in rejection of the protests against Boluarte.

"We do not want violence in our country. I know that now there is a group that disagrees with the current government, but nevertheless it is not the way to carry out protest," 56-year-old merchant Cesar Noa told AFP.

- Roadblocks -

Protesters have maintained almost 100 road blocks in several parts of Peru.

Security forces cleared one road block on the Panamericana Norte highway early Tuesday morning. Boluarte said others would be dismantled soon.

President Castillo was removed from office and arrested on December 7, after attempting to dissolve the country's legislature and rule by decree, amid multiple corruption investigations.

Boluarte, who was Castillo's vice president, succeeded him. But despite Boluarte belonging to the same left-wing party, Castillo supporters have rejected her, even accusing her of being a "traitor."

cm-pgf/jh/mlm