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Peru imposes, then withdraws curfew to quell price protests

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Peru’s president on Tuesday lifted a curfew he had decreed less than a day earlier in the country’s capital and its main port in a bid to quell sometimes violent protests over rising fuel and food prices.

President Pedro Castillo had announced the surprise curfew and emergency measures shortly before midnight and ended them Tuesday afternoon after more than 1,000 people protested the stay-at-home order in Lima and amid a meeting with congressional leaders. Opposition lawmakers had decried the emergency measures as illegal.

“It is up to the executive at this time to rescind the measure limiting mobility,” Castillo said while he met with lawmakers to discuss the political crisis.

The curfew and emergency measures marked the first time since the government of now-jailed strongman Alberto Fujimori that Peruvian authorities had ordered people to stay at home to control protests. On April 5, 1992, Fujimori shut down Peru’s congress and judicial system, and sent tanks into the streets amid social and economic unrest.

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On Tuesday, major highways and street markets in Lima were almost deserted, and the main bus and public transportation lines were out of service. The empty streets had resembled the tightest lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic which hit Peru badly, leaving more than 212,000 people dead.

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“It’s a shame. We’re experiencing a terrible economic situation, brother,” said Juan Gutiérrez, a 45-year-old father of four who had been waiting in vain for a bus for more than an hour so he could get to a clothing workshop where he is paid by the piece.

“Do you know what it means to lose a day? We have to work to eat,” he said.

The state of emergency ordered people to stay at home and restricted rights to movement and gatherings. It also eased rules limiting arbitrary searches.

The government said people could leave their homes only in cases of medical emergency or the need to buy medicine or food. The curfew exempted essential services such as food markets, pharmacies, clinics and trash collection. But there were no buses to take workers to their jobs.

Truckers and other transport workers have been protesting and striking over fuel and food prices, blocking some key highways. Protests over the past week have resulted in four deaths and the burning of toll stations and small-scale looting.

In response, the government on Sunday temporarily removed a tax that increases the prices of gasoline and diesel by 28% to 30%.

That supposedly brought the price of diesel down to 47 cents a liter — about $3.68 a gallon. But many of the protesters said stations had not adopted the lower prices.

Castillo said the disturbances caused “worry among workers, mothers and the population in general” and imposed the curfew to “reestablish peace and internal order.”

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Defense Minister José Gavidia told journalists Tuesday the curfew was motivated by intelligence indicating there were plans for broader violence, especially in central Lima.

Armed soldiers were deployed at strategic points in Peru’s capital and the port of Callao, including the airport, gas stations and shopping centers. Agents were seen detaining several passengers on a bus taking people to a protest in southern Lima.

“I don’t think things are going to be fixed from one day to the next because (Castillo) has closed everything,” said Elena Gamboa, 40, who managed to open her street stand despite the curfew.

In Lima’s wealthier districts, people banged pots and pans in protest. One 75-year-old man, who identified himself only as Oscar, said he was marching against “the communist government of Castillo.”

Castillo has acknowledged in recent weeks that the country faces an economic crisis that he blamed on the pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine.

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