Peru Selects Its Third President in a Week Amid Massive Protest
- Peru’s interim president Manuel Merino resigned Sunday after only five days in office.
- Merino took on the role after Congress impeached President Martin Vizcarra over corruption allegations that are still being investigated by prosecutors.
- Vizcarra’s impeachment led to massive protests nationwide, which sparked accusations of police brutality and repression.
- On Saturday, during clashes with police, 94 people were injured and two were killed.
- On Monday, Peru’s Congress has chosen Francisco Sagasti as interim-President until new elections are held in April 2021.
Peru Embroiled in Massive Protests
Peru’s Congress named Centrist politician Francisco Sagasti the country’s new interim-president on Monday, making him Peru’s third president in just one week.
The announcement followed the resignation of interim-President Manuel Merino, who stepped down Sunday after just five days in office.
Merino, formerly the presiding member of Congress, faced widespread backlash during his short-lived presidency, though the outrage has more to do with who Merino was replacing.
Merino took the position after President Martin Vizcarra was impeached on Nov. 9 over “permanent moral incapacity” stemming from corruption allegations. More specifically, Vizcarra is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands in bribes while governor over seven years ago.
At the time of the accusation, Vizcarra denied the allegations, saying they are a response to his new policies which intended to fight corruption in Peru’s government. He told reporters, “Every time you try to defeat the virus of corruption, it defends itself by attacking. When you hit powerful interests, they don’t stay calm.”
Vizcarra has long had a contentious relationship with Congress. In 2018, he took on the role of president following the resignation of President Pablo Kuczynski, who was faced his own corruption impeachment.
Just a year later, in 2019, Vizcarra fought with Congress and dissolved the body, pending new elections. In response, Congress declared Vizcarra unfit for office. The crisis was eventually settled and Vizcarra held onto the presidency.
In September 2020, Vizcarra narrowly escaped impeachment after a push by opposition members. Just a month later he faced renewed corruption allegations. The allegations stemming from his time as governor are still being investigated by prosecutors, but Congress still overwhelming voted to remove Vizcarra from office by a vote of 105 to 25.
While his first impeachment was narrowly avoided because of partisan fractures, Vizcarra proved less popular amid Congress because of his alleged mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic and economy.
Peru is among the leading nations in total cases, as well as per-capita deaths from the virus.
Vizcarra continues to deny any allegations of corruption but accepted the impeachment. On the day of his resignation, he took to Twitter to thank his supporters.
Protests Erupt for Vizcarra
Support among everyday Peruvians was something Vizcarra never lacked. The centrist president had proven extremely popular, despite Congress’ consistent claims of corruption. In fact, Vizcarra’s impeachment has led to a week of constant protest throughout the country.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Lima and other major cities every day since Vizcarra left office, demanding his return.
In general, protesters labeled Congress’ moves to remove him from office an illegal coup. The protests have been largely peaceful, although police interaction with protesters turned increasingly violent as the past week progressed. There have even been accusations by Human Rights Watch and the Ombudsman of Peru of police brutality and misconduct.
Tensions culminated on Saturday when clashes between police and protesters left at least 94 wounded and two dead. By Sunday morning, eight ministers had resigned from office over the growing crisis. By Sunday afternoon, interim-President Merino resigned from office.
“I want to express my sincere condolences to the families of the victims who died during the protest, where citizens practiced their right to liberty and went out to the streets to protest,” Merino said in a speech to the nation. “All of Peru is mourning. Nothing can justify a legitimate protest which ends with the deaths of Peruvians.”
“I want to announce to all the country that I present my irrevocable resignation of the post of the Presidency of the Republic,” he continued. “I call for peace and unity for all Peruvians. I will do the best I can to guarantee the Constitutional term. Peru deserves to move forward.”
Merino also added that every member of the cabinet offered their resignation, but in order to maintain some form of stability in the executive office, he denied their request.
The news of Merino’s resignation was met with celebrations on the streets of Peru, with many hoping this opens the possibility of a Vizcarra return.
Vizcarra himself was critical of the role Congress would play in deciding another president, who according to the Associated Press, said “It can’t be that the institution that got us into this political crisis, that has for five days paralyzed Peru, with deaths, is going to give us a solution, choosing the person who they best see fit.”
It’s unclear if Sagasti’s appointment to President will quell the unrest in Peru.
See what others are saying: (NBC News) (NPR) (Associated Press)
U.S. Intel Suggests Pro-Ukraine Group Sabotaged Nord Stream Pipeline
There is no evidence that the culprits behind the attack were acting under the direction of the Ukrainian government.
Europe Braces for Shocking Revelations
A pro-Ukraine group blew up the Nord Stream pipelines last September, intelligence reviewed by U.S. officials suggests.
The New York Times reported the news Tuesday, citing officials who said there was no evidence of involvement by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, any of his top lieutenants, or any government officials.
The strength of the evidence, however, is not clear, and U.S. officials declined to inform The Times on the nature of the intelligence or how it was obtained. They reportedly added that the intelligence indicates neither who the group’s members are nor who funded and directed the operation.
The Times’ sources said they believe the saboteurs were most likely Russian or Ukrainian nationals and that they possibly received specialized government training in the past.
It’s also possible that the group behind the attack was a proxy with covert ties to Kyiv, the report added.
When three of four Nord Stream pipelines were found to be severely damaged last year, the revelation shook markets and sent European gas prices soaring. Nord Stream 1, which was completed in 2011, and Nord Stream 2, which had been laid down but wasn’t yet operational, supplied Germany and by extension the rest of Western Europe with cheap Russian natural gas.
Following the explosions, Poland and Ukraine blamed Russia, and Russia blamed Britain. Other observers speculated that Ukraine might be behind it too.
More Ongoing Investigations
Last month, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh claimed in a Substack article that the United States military carried out the attack and that President Biden authorized it himself. However, Hersh’s report cited only one anonymous source in support of its central claim, so it was largely dismissed as not credible.
Western governments expressed caution on Wednesday in response to The Times report.
“There are ongoing national investigations and I think it’s right to wait until those are finalized before we say anything more about who was behind it,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.
Russia, by contrast, pounced on the opportunity to renew its demand for inclusion in a proposed international probe into the pipeline explosion.
The Ukrainian government denied any involvement in the Nord Stream explosions.
On Wednesday, multiple German media outlets reported that investigators have largely reconstructed how the attack happened, pinning the blame on six people who allegedly used a yacht hired by a Ukrainian-owned company in Poland.
German officials reportedly searched a vessel suspected of carrying the explosives in January, but the investigation is ongoing.
The country’s defense minister suggested the explosions may have been a “false flag” attack to smear Ukraine.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Associated Press) (Reuters)
Turkey, Syria Earthquake Death Toll Rises to 41,000 as Survivors Pulled from Rubble
A pair of brothers spent around 200 hours trapped under debris, living off of protein powder and their own urine.
A Humanitarian Crisis Explodes
The number of confirmed dead from the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria last week has surpassed 41,000.
Millions more people have been left stranded without adequate shelter, food, clean water, or medical supplies.
At night, the region has dropped to below-freezing temperatures.
Now health authorities are worried that the lack of sanitation infrastructure, which was damaged by the quakes, will lead to a disease outbreak.
“We haven’t been able to rinse off since the earthquake,” 21-year-old Mohammad Emin, whose home was destroyed, told Reuters.
He was helping out at a clinic serving displaced people in an open-air stadium, but with no showers and only six toilets, the resource shortage was poignant.
“They are offering tetanus shots to residents who request them, and distributing hygiene kits with shampoo, deodorant, pads and wipes,” added Akin Hacioglu, a doctor at the clinic.
The World Health Organization monitors the population for waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid, as well as seasonal influenza and COVID-19.
Rescuers Race Against the Clock
After more than a week of searching, hopes that more living victims will be found amid the collapsed buildings are fading, but rescuers continue to pull out the final few survivors.
Abdulbaki Yeninar, 21, and his brother Muhammed Enes Yeninar, 17, spent about 200 hours under rubble in the city of Kahramanmaras before they were extracted Tuesday. They told reporters they held on by eating protein powder, drinking their own urine, and swallowing gulps of air.
In the same city, teams dug a 16-foot tunnel through debris to rescue a woman, and to the south, a volunteer mining crew joined the efforts to save another.
With no homes to go back to, some survivors have joined the ranks of volunteers themselves.
In the past week, more than 35,000 Turkish search-and-rescue teams worked alongside thousands of international workers in the effort, according to Turkey’s emergency management agency.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called the earthquakes the “disaster of the century” and said in a statement that at least 13,000 people were being treated in hospitals.
The death toll is expected to rise even further in the coming weeks.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (Al Jazeera)
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon Resigns
“In my head and in my heart I know that time is now,” she said to reporters
Sturgeon Steps Down
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation on Wednesday.
Sturgeon has been Scotland’s longest-serving First Minister and she is also the first woman to ever hold the position. She has been in politics since 1999, leading the charge for Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom. Sturgeon also guided the country through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sturgeon made sure to mention that her decision was not in response to the latest round of political pressure she is facing after her recent controversies regarding gender reform. Rather, her reasons are rooted in her own personal struggle with whether she can continue to do the job well.
“To be clear, I am not expecting violins here. But I am a human being as well as a politician,” she said during a press conference on Wednesday. “My point is this – giving absolutely everything of yourself to this job is the only way to do it. The country deserves nothing less. But, in truth, that can only be done by anyone for so long.
“For me, it is now in danger of becoming too long,” Sturgeon continued. “A First Minister is never off-duty. Particularly in this day and age, there is virtually no privacy. Even ordinary stuff that most people take for granted like going for a coffee with friends or going for a walk on your own becomes very difficult.”
Sturgeon’s Political Future
Sturgeon’s approval ratings are reportedly the lowest they’ve been since she’s been in office. Regardless, many political figures in Scotland, as well as the U.K., have applauded her and her historic service as First Minister.
There are still several unknowns moving forward. There is still no confirmation on who will take over the position. However, Sturgeon did say that she will serve until someone else is elected.
The push for Scotland’s independence is hanging in limbo as well, and no one knows what it’ll look like without Sturgeon’s leadership. She did mention, however, that she does not intend to leave politics fully and will still fight for the cause as a lawmaker in Parliament.
Sturgeon said the support for Scottish independence needs to be solidified and grow.
“To achieve that we need to reach across the divide in Scottish politics,” she said. “And my judgment now is that this needs a new leader.”