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Peru police use tear gas to block protesters from marching

Peru police use tear gas to block protesters from marching

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Peru police use tear gas to block protesters from marching

Police fired tear gas to try to subdue thousands of protesters who poured into the Peruvian capital Thursday, many from remote Andean regions, calling for the ouster of President Dina Boluarte and the return to power of her predecessor, whose removal last month launched deadly unrest and cast the nation into political chaos.

The demonstrators gathered in Lima’s historic downtown scuffled with security forces who barred them from reaching key government buildings, including Congress, as well as business and residential districts of the capital.

Besides Boluarte’s resignation, the supporters of former President Pedro Castillo were demanding the dissolution of Congress and immediate elections. Castillo, Peru’s first leader from a rural Andean background, was impeached after a failed attempt to dissolve Congress.

For much of the day, the protests played out as a cat-and-mouse game, with demonstrators, some of whom threw rocks at law enforcement, trying to get through police lines and officers responding with volleys of tear gas that sent protesters fleeing, using rags dipped in vinegar to alleviate the sting to their eyes and skin.

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“We’re surrounded,” said Sofia López, 42, as she sat on a bench outside the country’s Supreme Court. “We’ve tried going through numerous places and we end up going around in circles.”

Late Thursday evening, firefighters were working to put out a raging inferno that broke out in an old building near the protests that were taking place in Plaza San Martín in downtown Lima but its relationship to the demonstrations was not immediately clear. Images showed people rushing to get their belongings out of the building that was close to several government offices.

As the sun set, fires smoldered in the streets of downtown Lima as protesters threw rocks at police officers who fired so much tear gas it was difficult to see.

“I’m feeling furious,” said Verónica Paucar, 56, coughing from the tear gas. “We’re going to return peacefully.”

There was visible frustration among protesters who had hoped to march into the Miraflores district, an emblematic neighborhood of the economic elite.

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In a Miraflores park, a large police presence separated the antigovernment protesters from a small group of demonstrators expressing support for law enforcement. Police fired tear gas there as well to disperse demonstrators.

Boluarte was defiant Thursday night in a televised speech alongside key government officials in which she thanked police for controlling the “violent protests” and vowed to prosecute those responsible for violence.

The president also criticized the protests for “not having any kind of social agenda that the country needs,” accused them of “wanting to break the rule of law” and raised questions about their financing.

A total of 22 police officers and 16 civilians were injured Thursday throughout the country, Interior Minister Vicente Romero Fernández said.
Peru’s ombudsman said at least 13 civilians and four police officers were injured in the Lima protests Thursday.

Until recently, the protests had been mainly in Peru’s southern Andes, with a total of 55 people killed in the unrest, mostly in clashes with security forces.

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Anger at Boluarte was the common thread Thursday as protesters chanted calls for her resignation and street sellers hawked T-shirts saying, “Out, Dina Boluarte,” “Dina murderer, Peru repudiates you” and “New elections, let them all leave.”

“Our God says thou shalt not kill your neighbor. Dina Boluarte is killing, she’s making brothers fight,” Paulina Consac said as she carried a large Bible while marching in downtown Lima with more than 2,000 protesters from Cusco.

By early afternoon, protesters had turned key roads into large pedestrian areas in downtown Lima.

“We’re at a breaking point between dictatorship and democracy,” said Pedro Mamani, a student at the National University of San Marcos, where demonstrators who traveled for the protest were being housed.

The university was surrounded by police officers, who also deployed at key points of Lima’s historic downtown district — 11,800 officers in all, according to Victor Zanabria, the head of the Lima police force.

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Protests were also held elsewhere and video posted on social media showed demonstrators trying to storm the airport in southern Arequipa, Peru’s second city. They were blocked by police and one person was killed in the ensuing clashes, Peru’s ombudsman said.

That was one of three airports that suffered attacks from protesters Thursday, Boluarte said, adding it wasn’t “a mere coincidence” they were stormed on the same day.

The protests, which erupted last month, have marked the worst political violence in more than two decades and highlighted the deep divisions between the urban elite largely concentrated in Lima and the poor rural areas.

By bringing the protest to Lima, demonstrators hoped to give fresh weight to the movement that began when Boluarte was sworn into office on Dec. 7 to replace Castillo.

“When there are tragedies, bloodbaths outside the capital it doesn’t have the same political relevance in the public agenda than if it took place in the capital,” said Alonso Cárdenas, a public policy professor at the Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University in Lima.

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The concentration of protesters in Lima also reflects how the capital has started to see more antigovernment demonstrations in recent days.
Boluarte has said she supports a plan to hold elections for president and Congress in 2024, two years before originally scheduled.

Activists have dubbed Thursday’s demonstration in Lima as the Cuatro Suyos March, a reference to the four cardinal points of the Inca empire. It’s also the name given to a massive 2000 mobilization, when thousands of Peruvians took to the streets against the autocratic government of Alberto Fujimori, who resigned months later.

But there are key differences between those demonstrations and this week’s protests.

“In 2000, the people protested against a regime that was already consolidated in power,” Cardenas said. “In this case, they’re standing up to a government that has only been in power for a month and is incredibly fragile.”

The 2000 protests also had a centralized leadership and were led by political parties.

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The latest protests have largely been grassroots efforts without a clear leadership, a dynamic that was clear Thursday as protesters often seemed lost and didn’t know where to head next as their path was continually blocked by law enforcement.

The protests have grown to such a degree that demonstrators are unlikely to be satisfied with Boluarte’s resignation and are now demanding more fundamental structural reform.

Protesters on Thursday said they would not be cowed.

“This isn’t ending today, it won’t end tomorrow, but only once we achieve our goals,” said 61-year-old David Lozada as he looked on at a line of police officers wearing helmets and carrying shields blocking protesters from leaving downtown Lima. “I don’t know what they’re thinking, do they want to spark a civil war?”

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Sri Lanka completing pre-requisites for IMF aid – President

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Sri Lanka completing pre-requisites for IMF aid - President

Sri Lanka is completing the pre-requisites to unlock a $2.9 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and expects rapid approval from the global lender, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Saturday.

“We are successfully completing the difficult stage required to get support from the International Monetary Fund. We expect to get their consent without delay,” Wickremesinghe said in his address to the nation to mark the 75th Independence Day.

Sri Lanka, caught in the worst financial crisis since independence from Britain in 1948 triggered by a severe shortage of dollars, has seen steep inflation, a currency plunge and its economy slide into recession.

The island of 22 million people has also been hit by high taxes, a shortage of essential items such as medicine and fuel, and daily power cuts.

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Wickremesinghe, who took over after his predecessor fled the country and resigned last year after thousands of protesters occupied his office and residence, has pledged to put the economy back on track but warned it will be an uphill task.

“I know that many of the decisions I have been compelled to take since assuming the presidency have been unpopular …. I will continue this new reform program with the majority of people who love this country,” he added.

Sri Lanka is currently focused on getting financing assurances from key bilateral creditors China and Japan. India, the third major creditor, agreed to support debt restructuring last month.

Sri Lanka’s central bank estimates an economic turnaround in the second half of 2023 and inflation to reach single digits by the end of this year.

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US warns Turkey on exports seen to boost Russia’s war effort

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US warns Turkey on exports seen to boost Russia's war effort

The United States warned Turkey in recent days about the export to Russia of chemicals, microchips and other products that can be used in Moscow’s war effort in Ukraine, and it could move to punish Turkish companies or banks contravening sanctions.

Brian Nelson, the U.S. Treasury Department’s top sanctions official, visited Turkish government and private sector officials on Thursday and Friday to urge more cooperation in disrupting the flow of such goods.

In a speech to bankers, Nelson said a marked year-long rise in exports to Russia leaves Turkish entities “particularly vulnerable to reputational and sanctions risks”, or lost access to G7 markets.

They should “take extra precaution to avoid transactions related to potential dual-use technology transfers that could be used by the Russian military-industrial complex,” he said in a copy of the speech issued by the Treasury.

In the meetings in Ankara and Istanbul, Nelson and a delegation highlighted tens of millions of dollars of exports to Russia that raised concerns, according to a senior U.S. official who requested anonymity.

“There is no surprise…that Russia is actively looking to leverage the historic economic ties it has in Turkey,” the official said. “The question is what is the Turkish response going to be.”

NATO member Ankara opposes the sweeping sanctions on Russia on principle but says they will not be circumvented in Turkey, urging the West to provide any evidence.

Western nations applied the export controls and sanctions after Moscow’s invasion nearly a year ago. Yet supply channels have remained open from Hong Kong, Turkey and other trading hubs.

Citing Russian customs records, Reuters reported in December that at least $2.6 billion of computer and other electronic components flowed into Russia in the seven months to Oct. 31. At least $777 million of these products were made by Western firms whose chips have been found in Russian weapons systems.

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Ankara has balanced its good ties with both Moscow and Kyiv throughout the war, held early talks between the sides and also helped broker a deal for grain shipments from Ukraine.

The trip by Nelson, the Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, is the latest to Turkey by senior U.S. officials aiming to ramp up pressure on Ankara to ensure enforcement of U.S. curbs on Russia.

The pressure has brought some changes.

Turkey’s largest ground-service provider, Havas, told Russian and Belarusian airlines it may stop providing parts, fuel and other services to their U.S.-origin aircraft, in line with Western bans, Reuters reported on Friday citing a Jan. 31 letter from the company.

In September, five Turkish banks suspended use of the Russian Mir payment system after the U.S. Treasury targeted the head of the system’s operator with new sanctions and warned those helping Moscow against skirting them.

Nelson urged the Turkish bankers to conduct enhanced due diligence on Russian-related transactions, and noted in the speech that Russian oligarchs continue to buy property and dock yachts in Turkey.

In separate talks with Turkish firms, Nelson “urgently” flagged the way Russia is believed to be dodging Western controls to re-supply plastics, rubber and semi-conductors found in exported goods and used by the military, the official said.

The person added that after taking steps last year to press Russia to end the war, the U.S. focus is now “on evasion and particularly evasion in third countries that we are seeing”.

Nelson delivered similar messages in the United Arab Emirates and Oman this week, the Treasury said.

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China plays down Blinken’s canceled visit over balloon

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China plays down Blinken's canceled visit over balloon

China played down the cancellation of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken after a large Chinese balloon suspected of conducting surveillance on U.S. military sites roiled diplomatic relations, saying that neither side had formally announced any such plan.

“In actuality, the U.S. and China have never announced any visit, the U.S. making any such announcement is their own business, and we respect that,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Saturday morning.

Blinken was due to visit Beijing on Sunday for talks aimed at reducing U.S.-China tensions, the first such high-profile trip after the countries’ leaders met last November in Indonesia. But the U.S. abruptly canceled the trip after the discovery of the huge balloon despite China’s claim that it was merely a weather research “airship” that had blown off course.

The Pentagon rejected that out of hand — as well as China’s contention that the balloon was not being used for surveillance and had only limited navigational ability.

Uncensored reactions on the Chinese internet mirrored the official government stance that the U.S. was hyping up the situation.
Many users made jokes about the balloon. Some said that since the U.S. had put restrictions on the technology that China is able to buy to weaken the Chinese tech industry, they couldn’t control the balloon.

Others called it the “wandering balloon” in a pun that refers to the newly released Chinese sci-fi film called “The Wandering Earth 2.”

Still others used it as a chance to poke fun at U.S. defenses, saying it couldn’t even defend against a balloon, and nationalist influencers leapt to use the news to mock the U.S. One wrote wryly: “The U.S., because of the balloon incident, delays Blinken’s visit to China.”

Censorship was visible on the topic — the “wandering balloon” hashtag on Weibo was no longer searchable by Saturday evening.

“The U.S. is hyping this as a national security threat posed by China to the U.S. This type of military threat, in actuality, we haven’t done this. And compared with the U.S. military threat normally aimed at us, can you say it’s just little? Their surveillance planes, their submarines, their naval ships are all coming near our borders,” Chinese military expert Chen Haoyang of the Taihe Institute said on Phoenix TV, one of the major national TV outlets.

The balloon was spotted earlier over Montana, which is home to one of America’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base, defense officials said.

President Joe Biden had declined to shoot down the balloon, following advice of defense officials who worried the debris could injure people below.

Meanwhile, people with binoculars and telephoto lenses tried to find the “spy balloon” in the sky as it headed southeastward over Kansas and Missouri at 60,000 feet (18,300 meters).

The Pentagon also acknowledged reports of a second balloon flying over Latin America. “We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a question about the second balloon.

Blinken, who had been due to depart Washington for Beijing late Friday, said he had told senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi in a phone call that sending the balloon over the U.S. was “an irresponsible act and that (China’s) decision to take this action on the eve of my visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions that we were prepared to have.”

China has denied any claims of spying, and said it is a civilian-use balloon intended for meteorology research. Experts have said that their response was feasible.

But analysts said the unexpected incident will not help the strained ties between the two countries, and particularly China’s initial response where it said they could not control the balloon and “regretted” that it unintentionally entered U.S. space.

On Saturday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs again emphasized that the balloon’s journey was out of its control and urged the U.S. to not “smear” it based on the balloon.
Wang said China “has always strictly followed international law, we do not accept any groundless speculation and hype.Faced with unexpected situations, both parties need to keep calm, communicate in a timely manner, avoid misjudgments and manage differences.”

Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore, said China’s apology did not appear sincere.
“In the meantime, the relationship will not improve in the near future … the gap is huge.”

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