Sat, Oct 14, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Mayor-less city in Peru now under state of emergency

AP , LIMA

Peru's president declared a state of emergency in the coastal city of Chiclayo, where the city hall was torched and trash pickup and other city services have been halted for a month amid a power struggle between two would-be mayors.

"We cannot permit what has occurred, the destruction of a national treasure as important as the Chiclayo City Hall, and to leave Chiclayo buried in garbage. Chaos!" President Alan Garcia said on Thursday. "We declare a state of emergency for the province of Chiclayo."

The conflict stems from a ruling last year by the National Election Board removing Mayor Arturo Castillo from office and installing a deputy, Jose Barrueto, in his place.

Peru's Constitutional Tribunal annulled that decision, setting off a jurisdictional battle between the two legal bodies and creating a power vacuum in the city.

On Sept. 7, local officials and municipal employees clashed with followers of Castillo after he tried to retake control of city hall -- which ended up in flames. The incident is under investigation.

El Comercio newspaper reported that the city's bank accounts have been frozen since Sept. 8, causing public services such as garbage collection to grind to a halt. Trash has reportedly piled up for the last month across the city.

Garcia said Thursday's order puts regional prefect Guillermo Baca in charge of the city of 275,000 residents pending the outcome of the legal dispute, and puts payroll under federal control to ensure civil servants get paid.

Garcia's order did not appear to be aimed at instituting martial law in the city, although Garcia said Baca could call on the national police and armed forces to maintain order if necessary.

The president warned Castillo and Barrueto to stop the conflict or face arrest, and lashed out at the Election Board and Constitutional Tribunal for not resolving the dispute more quickly.

He said that his decision was "grave and without precedent," but said the measure was necessary to fight "institutional terrorism -- the terrorism of disorder."

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