Sat, Jul 03, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Riots grip Peruvian city after protest and shooting


Thousands of protesters overran the southern Peruvian city of Ayacucho on Thursday after police used tear gas to break up a protest by teachers who took over regional Education Ministry offices last week.

At least 15 people were reported hurt in what a senior regional official called "anarchy." Television pictures showed crowds running wild in the narrow streets of the Andean city.

The government blamed followers of the Shining Path rebel group who it said infiltrated the protests to cause mayhem. Ayacucho was the cradle of the communist Shining Path group, one of Latin America's bloodiest insurgencies at its height in the 1980s. The group has largely been dormant since the 1992 capture of its leader, Abimael Guzman.

"These acts which destroy private property and threaten the lives of Peruvians have basically been arranged by the terrorist group," Prime Minister Carlos Ferrero told a news conference.

The government ruled out calling a state of emergency, but Interior Minister Javier Reategui said he was sending more police to Ayacucho.

Witnesses said protesters called a day of action after the clash with police. "When the police fired shots, people went crazy," said Yuri Revollar, head of the SUTEP teachers' union in Ayacucho. Teachers want better working conditions and the repeal of a law they say threatens the right to free public education.

Protesters tried to take over public offices, according to Ayacucho regional President Omar Quezada and media reports.

"Police can't control things, the situation is chaotic. Anarchy is reigning at the moment in Ayacucho, nobody is safe," Quezada told cable television channel Canal N.

Journalist Jose Atauje said he saw a 60-year-old teacher and a police officer in serious condition.

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