LIMA: Peru closed the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu on Saturday amid ongoing anti-government protests, stranding hundreds of tourists for hours as authorities evicted protesters from a university in Lima where they locked themselves in the framework of the crisis that is engulfing this divided country.
Demonstrations demanding the resignation of the Peruvian president Dina Boluarte have been continuing since early December, killing 46 and prompting the government to impose a state of emergency in areas affected by the violence.
This crisis triggered by the ousting of the left-wing indigenous president Pedro Castillo the past month stems in large part from a gaping inequality between Peru’s urban elite and the poor rural indigenous people of the Andean region who saw him as one of their own and working to improve their lives.
Authorities announced on Saturday that another protester had died following demonstrations on Friday in the town of Ilave in this southern Andean region.
Video footage of Ilave that has gone viral on social media shows police firing into a crowd of Indigenous protesters in the town square. Enraged protesters responded by setting fire to a police station, local media reported.
Clashes between police and crowds in this town near Lake Titicaca and the border with Bolivia left 10 injured, hospital officials said.
Prior to Machu Picchu’s closure, rail services to the site had already been suspended due to damage to the track by protesters. The only way to get to the popular tourist spot is by train.
At least 400 people, including 300 foreigners, found themselves stranded at the foot of the site, in the town of Aguas Calientesand begging to be evacuated.
Rescue teams then evacuated 418 tourists, the tourism ministry said in a Twitter post accompanied by photos of a train and seated travelers.
“The closure of the Inca Trails network and the Machu Picchu Citadel has been ordered due to the social situation and to preserve the safety of visitors,” the Ministry of Culture said in a statement on Saturday.
Tourism is vital to the Peruvian economy, accounting for between three and four percent of the country’s GDP.
In Lima, where two days of massive mobilization of demonstrators from the poor Andean region of the country had apparently ended, the situation remained tense on Saturday.
As night fell, hundreds more protesters gathered in the city, mostly around the Congress building.
During the day, security forces used an armored vehicle to force open the gate of the University of San Marcos in the city’s downtown, in an effort to evict protesters sleeping there.
A large contingent of police searched the occupants, sometimes forcing them to lie on the ground, AFP journalists noted.
Interior Minister Vicente Romero Canal N said police intervened after university authorities said some of the squatters were committing crimes. He did not specify what it was.
About 200 people were arrested, said Alfonso Barrenechea, spokesman for the prosecutor’s office.
Protesters are trying to keep up the pressure on the Peruvian government, defying the state of emergency that now covers almost a third of the country.
The European Union on Saturday condemned the chaos and the “very large number of victims”, calling for a peaceful political solution in Peru.
The protests were sparked when former President Castillo, a rural schoolteacher, was removed from office and arrested on December 7 after he attempted to dissolve the country’s legislature and rule by decree, amid multiple corruption probes .
Of the 46 dead since the protests began, 45 were protesters and one was a police officer.

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