Turmoil threatens Peru as Congress votes to impeach president

Peru’s Congress voted on Monday to remove President Martín Vizcarra in an impeachment trial over corruption allegations, threatening further turmoil in a country struggling to recover from the coronavirus.

In a process that lasted eight hours, some 105 members of the opposition-dominated Congress voted to remove the centrist leader over accusations that as a governor he accepted bribes from companies that won public works contracts, in their second attempt to boot Vizcarra out in as many months.

Legislators needed to secure 87 votes out of 130 to remove him from office. There were 19 votes against and four abstentions.

“The resolution declaring the vacancy of the presidency of the republic has been approved,” declared Congress leader Manuel Marino, who under the constitution will take over the presidential functions until July 2021, which would have been the end of Vizcarra’s term.

Vizcarra has rejected the corruption allegations as “baseless” and “false” but in a speech outside the presidential palace after the vote said he would not challenge the decision. He reiterated that he had done nothing wrong and was willing to respond to any criminal charges.

The removal of a president with widespread public support thanks to his anti-corruption drive brings renewed political turmoil to the Andean nation as it tries to recover from an economic recession brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Nearly 35,000 people in Peru have died from COVID-19, the world’s highest per capita death-rate.

The next presidential and parliamentary elections are due in April.

“We are seeing here in Lima and in the north, people already expressing their disgust about this vote,” said Al Jazeera’s Mariana Sanchez reporting from the capital. “Many experts are saying this is a coup d’etat by legislators without any proof whatsoever of Vizcarra’s guilt.”

Pot-banging protesters took to the street around the Congress building in the immediate aftermath of Monday night’s vote and police clashed with pro-Vizcarra demonstrators a few blocks from the Congress building. Some waved signs accusing the Congress of a “coup”.

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