Fri, May 30, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Troops clamp down on strikers in Peru

STREET CLASHES A 30-day state of emergency was declared on Wednesday in an effort to bring order to a country that has been paralyzed by thousands of protesters


Thirty-six people were injured and 95 were arrested in a day of street clashes between striking protesters and army troops enforcing a 30-day state of emergency the government imposed to keep the country going.

With his popularity plunging, President Alejandro Toledo signed the decree to cope with growing labor unrest, as thousands of striking teachers, farmers and health-care workers brought the country almost to a standstill.

As army troops brought their fist down on protesters around the country on Wednesday, they tore down 35 barricades of rocks and burning tires that had blocked the country's main Pan-American Highway.

Soldiers fired in the air to disperse rock-throwing protesters trying to protect the barricades.

Clashes were also reported in several cities across the country. In northern Chiclayo, police fired tear gas at a crowd of about 5,000 striking teachers.

Ministers Alberto Sanabria, of the Interior, and Fernando Carbone, of Health, said 36 people were injured -- 16 police, 20 civilians -- and 95 were arrested in clashes around the country on Wednesday.

Troops and armored vehicles also took up positions at key points in central Lima to prevent demonstrations, while anti-riot police dispersed demonstrators staging a sit-in at the legislature building. One military detachment was stationed outside the headquarters of the General Confederation of Workers of Peru, the main union, reports said.

Toledo ordered the crackdown as a teachers' strike in Peru entered its 16th day, affecting some eight million children.

Leaders of the 280,000 teachers vowed to defy a government order to end their two-week-old strike, declared illegal late Tuesday just after Toledo said in a nationally televised address he was calling the second state of emergency in less than a year.

The president ordered all public schools to reopen and an end to highway blockades, citing the widespread labor strikes as violating "the fundamental rights" of all Peruvians. He said the armed forces would take charge of security in half of the country, including Lima.

Under the state of emergency, constitutional guarantees are suspended, including the rights to assemble, to privacy, to protest and freedom of movement. The state of emergency can be renewed for another 30 days, at the discretion of the president.

"We are responsible for defending this democracy we got back at such a high cost," Toledo said, referring to Peru's past history of military dictatorships and 10 years under President Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s before he fled the country.

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