Peru Threatens Action to Clear Protesters
May. 28, 2003
LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo declared a 30-day state of emergency late Tuesday, authorizing the military to clear thousands of protesting farmers who have blocked the nation's highways.
He said police would assist the military in the nationwide action.
``We have the responsibility to govern 26 million Peruvians. We have the responsibiity to protect citizens and the public order,'' Toledo said in a sternly delivered national address.
The state of emergency suspends civil liberties and gives police the authority to detain protesters and enter homes to round up their leaders without warrants. The order also limits freedom of movement and prohibits assembly.
Congressman Luis Iberico, from a party allied with the government, said on cable news Canal N that approximately 12 of Peru's 24 provinces would be under military control and that civil liberties would be suspended.
Toledo's message came after state health workers went on a nationwide strike Tuesday, joining thousands of farmers, teachers and judiciary workers protesting throughout the country.
Throughout the day, police had worked to clear stretches of roadway blocked with boulders and burning tires by striking farmers since Monday.
The farmers are seeking protection from foreign imports and lower sales taxes on certain crops, while the other protesters are demanding higher wages.
``We just want justice,'' said Luis Caceres, a leader of the government health workers.
Earlier, Interior Minister Alberto Sanabria said that parts of 35 highways had been blocked and that 15 arrests had been made, mostly near the town of Huarmey, 150 miles northwest of Lima on the Pan-American Highway.
``We have to put order in each of these places,'' Sanabria said.
Tuesday's measure is the first time Toledo, who took office in July 2001, has declared a nationwide state of emergency.
In June of last year, he placed Peru's second largest city, Arequipa, and the surrounding region under a state of emergency for five days in order to quell violent riots against the government's plan to privatize a public electrical company that served the city.
That decree was lifted after the government suspended the planned auction and violence subsided.
Law enforcement could get complicated this time, however, since retired police had also threatened to join protesters on June 5.
``The pay is miserable. I don't know how police can live on this amount,'' retired police Col. Dino Baca told reporters, noting that police earn about $200 a month.
President Alejandro Toledo has faced a stream of protests in recent months, including by coca farmers seeking an end to government efforts to eradicate their cocaine-producing crop and transportation companies pushing for minimum cargo and passenger rates.
An Interior Ministry intelligence report quoted in La Republica newspaper's Sunday magazine said that in the coming two weeks some 30 protests, marches, strikes and roadblocks have been planned by various groups in major cities across Peru.
Of the current group of protesters, the teachers have been at it the longest, beginning a strike on May 12 to demand higher pay.
Teachers currently earn about $190 a month. The government has offered to raise their salaries by about $30 a month, but the teachers have said it is not enough.