Thu, May 29, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Peruvian police evict hundreds of striking teachers

STATE OF EMERGENCY Civil liberties have been suspended, while the freedom of movement is limited and assemblies are now all prohibited


Within hours of President Alejandro Toledo's declaration of a 30-day state of emergency, dozens of police in riot gear arrived at the gates of Congress early yesterday to evict hundreds of striking teachers camped out there.

The strikers, some groggy with sleep and others grumbling -- but all now in violation of the law, slowly moved out.

The state of emergency decree suspends civil liberties and gives police the authority to detain protesters and enter homes to round up their leaders without warrants.

The emergency order also limits freedom of movement and prohibits assembly.

Toledo invoked the measure late Tuesday night in a national address.

"We have the responsibility to govern for 26 million Peruvians. We have the responsibility to protect citizens and the public order," Toledo said sternly.

He said police would assist the military in ending nationwide protests by thousands of farmers, teachers, judiciary workers and, as of Tuesday, health workers.

On Tuesday, police worked to clear stretches of roadway that striking farmers had blocked with scattered boulders and burning tires since Monday.

By declaring a state of emergency, the government gave police and the military the authority to use force to clear the highways and restore order.

Iberico said a decree would be issued yesterday declaring the teachers' strike illegal.

The farmers are seeking protection from 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.

Before the announcement, 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, 250km 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.

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 Colonel Dino Baca said to reporters.

He said police earn about US$200 a month.

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, opening their strike on May 12 in their demand for higher pay.

Teachers currently earn about US$190 a month. The government has offered to raise their salaries by about US$30 a month, but the teachers have said it is not enough.

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