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Peru closes Machu Picchu as anti-government protests grow


LIMA, Peru (AP) — Peru closed the famous ancient ruins of Machu Picchu indefinitely on Saturday in the latest sign that anti-government protests that began last month are increasingly engulfing the South American country.

The Culture Ministry said it had closed the country’s most famous tourist attraction as well as the Inca Trail leading to the site “to protect the safety of tourists and the general population”.

There were 417 visitors stranded in Machu Picchu and unable to get out, including more than 300 foreigners, Tourism Minister Luis Fernando Helguero told a news conference.

The closure of the Inca citadel which dates back to the 15th century and is often referred to as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World comes as protesters descended on Lima, many traveling to the capital from remote Andean regions, to demand the resignation of President Dina Boluarte.

Also on Saturday, police raided Peru’s largest public university in Lima to evict protesters who were housed on campus as they took part in large demonstrations. More than 100 people have been arrested, Interior Minister Vicente Romero said.

Until recently, the protests were concentrated in the south of the country. They began last month after then-president Pedro Castillo, Peru’s first leader of rural Andean descent, was impeached and imprisoned for attempting to dissolve Congress.

Protesters demand the resignation of Boluarte, the former vice president sworn in on December 7 to replace Castillo. They also want Congress dissolved and new elections held. Castillo is currently being held for rebellion.

More than 55 people have died in the ensuing unrest, most recently on Friday night when a protester was killed and at least nine others injured in clashes with police in Puno. A total of 21 protesters and a police officer died in the southern region.

On Saturday morning, the police used a small tank to break into the National University of San Marcos in the morning.

Javier Cutipa, 39, who traveled by bus from Puno, had been sleeping on the floor there since Thursday but left for breakfast just before police arrived. He described the police action as “practically an assault”, with helicopters, tear gas and small tanks.

“It outrages us. The only thing the government does with these detentions is to escalate tensions,” Cutipa said. He added that “when the population learns this, they will react in a more drastic way”.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside law enforcement offices where detainees were being held Saturday night chanting “Freedom” and “We are students, not terrorists.” More congregated at other points in downtown Lima.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said it was “concerned by police raids, mass expulsions and detentions” at the university and urged the state to “guarantee the integrity and due process of all”.

The university issued a press release saying the police raid took place after protesters “assaulted” security personnel.

TOPSHOT – Workers attempt to remove a stone placed by rioters on the train tracks to block the passage of the train to and from the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in Ollantaytambo, Peru on December 17, 2022. – Around 5,000 tourists remained blocked in Cusco, the gateway city to Peru’s top attraction Machu Picchu, by deadly protests against the ousting of President Pedro Castillo, a local mayor said on Friday. Rail service to Machu Picchu has been suspended since Tuesday. (Photo by MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP) (Photo by MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP via Getty Images)

MARTIN BERNETTI via Getty Images

Cusco, where Machu Picchu is located, has seen some of the most intense clashes, resulting in a significant loss of tourist revenue. Cusco airport was briefly closed this week after protesters grew tired of storming it.

Train service to Machu Picchu has been closed since Thursday due to track damage.

Some stranded tourists opted to walk to Piscacucho, the nearest village, Helguero said, “but that involves walking for six, seven hours or more and only a few people are able to do it.”

Tourists who had already purchased Machu Picchu tickets from Saturday until a month after the protests ended will be able to get a full refund, the culture ministry said.

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