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Trapped in bullets, the death of a protester in Peru sets the anger on fire




By Alexander Villegas

AYACUCHO, Peru (Reuters) – Edgar Prado, 51, a mechanic and driver from the southern Peruvian city of Ayacucho, spent most of December 15 in his garage tinkering his white Toyota Hilux pickup, even as protests began to erupt. construction in the airport just a block away.

At 5:56 p.m. that day, he suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the chest and died at 6 a.m. the next morning, according to security camera footage reviewed by Reuters and an autopsy on his body. One of the ten deadliest people in the city of bloody violence that has rocked Peru in recent weeks.

The protests, the worst in years even in chaotic Peru, have seen 22 people killed, the youngest just 15 years old.

Clashes with the ouster of former president Pedro Castillo on December 7 after he illegally tried to dissolve Congress to avoid an impeachment vote he feared would lose. He was voted off duty shortly thereafter and arrested on charges of “sedition”. He denies the allegations.

His arrest has sparked outrage among the country’s political elite and Parliament, who are widely criticized as corrupt and self-serving, especially in the poor mining areas. south of Peru, where rising food and energy costs have hit the population hard.

As new President Dina Boluarte tried to stem the protests, which saw many highways blocked, buildings burned and airports invaded, the government declared a state of emergency. nationwide on December 14, cutting some citizenship rights and allowing the armed forces to support protests. Police maintain public order.

A day later, on December 15, protesters in Ayacucho invaded the runway of the regional airport, which runs parallel to Prado’s garage, where he lives and works on Calle Los Angeles. runway a block of houses. The airport was forced to suspend flights.

The army was sent in to regain control.

A security camera near the airport showed protesters swarming the runway at around 2pm, some hurling stones and burning tires as troops gathered. Military helicopters circling overhead. The public inspector said tear gas grenades were thrown at protesters below.

By 5 p.m., the violence had spread beyond the confines of the airport, and street shootings had begun. By the end of the night, the clashes would have left 10 dead or seriously injured. The most recent person died on December 21.

At 5:55 p.m., security camera footage from a store on Calle Los Angeles across from Prado’s home showed a group of protesters and others standing in the street.

The crowd was suddenly startled by something other than the camera and started running. On the sidewalk across the street a person fell and lay still. A group of people arrive to check on the person, including Edgar, who is seen walking in the opposite direction of the crowd and appears to have exited the entrance to his home. He knelt on the person and stayed with them while the others ran away.

A minute later, the footage shows Edgar being shot and collapsed. According to the autopsy results, he died the next morning, December 16, from hemorrhagic hypovolemic shock, lacerations in the lungs and liver, as well as an open wound in the chest from a gunshot wound to the chest. .

“The military is supposed to be trained to fight terrorism, not to take the lives of our residents,” his sister Edith told Reuters, adding that he was not involved. the riots. “Basically, he was murdered by the military.”

She said that Edgar left the house he shared with her after gunfire hit their gates and he saw injured protesters, a story that seems to fit the footage. Reuters watched. She showed Reuters bullet casings and marks on the door frame.

“The only thing I want is justice for my brother.”

IMAGE – The death of a protester in Peru

https://www.reuters.com/graphics/PERU-POLITICS/zjvqjjgyxpx/chart.png

GREAT FORCE ONE ‘LAST RELEASE’

The military says it has been severely attacked, giving it reason to respond with force.

At 1:00 p.m. on December 15, an army unit en route from the town center to Ayacucho airport was attacked by a mob with “blunt objects, explosives and improvised firearms”. armed said in a statement a day later.

This put the “physical integrity of the military at risk,” the military said, and it was acting in accordance with “established legal procedure that strictly applies applicable rules regarding the use of force”.

Peru’s military regulations say that during a state of emergency, members of the armed forces may use firearms “for self-defense or for the protection of others, in the event of a risk of death or serious injury.” imminent danger, or to avoid particularly dangerous crimes that endanger life.”

It also says that the use of lethal force should be a “last resort”.

Reuters has repeatedly attempted to interview Peruvian military and police leaders by phone and in person. A reporter went to the military base in Ayacucho to speak with the local general in charge of the operation, but was denied access.

The United Nations has called for an investigation into child casualties during the protests. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned the violence by both security forces and protesters, and called for dialogue.

The deaths have become a lightning rod for anger in the poor Andean regions and the Amazon, as many feel belittled despite the oil and local wealth. Many want major political change and constitutional reform.

“They aimed war bullets at our brothers,” said Rocio Leandro Melgar, a protest leader in Ayacucho, who blamed the government for allowing the violence to happen.

“We’ll keep moving forward, things can’t stay like this.”

‘FIRE GUNS EVERYWHERE’

Other footage from security cameras at a parking garage near the airport shared with Reuters shows a man standing next to a building looking up at the street. Something hit his arm and he ran away behind a tree.

Seconds later, a second man was seen running through the tree-lined square opposite. This person crossed the street towards the garage camera and suddenly fell to the ground. The owner of the parking lot said this person was dead.

Many residents in the same area around the airport said sporadic gunfire continued into the night.

Edith Aguilar said her son, Jose Luis, 20, was working at a local beverage factory until 6:30 p.m. on the day of the protests and was killed on his way home from work. An autopsy report shared with Reuters showed he died of severe head injuries caused by a gunshot.

“There was gunfire everywhere,” said Aguilar, who lives in the area around the airport. “You can’t go out either.”

Aguilar said her sister-in-law called her to ask if her son had arrived home. She had seen him walking in the street before and had heard that someone matching his description had been killed.

“My son comes home from work,” Aguilar said. “It’s a lie, people say we are terrorists.”

The most recent death, 19-year-old Jhonathan Alarcon, died of internal bleeding on December 21, a week after he was shot in the hip during the Ayacucho protest, his aunt told Reuters and data from the Peruvian inspector.

In protest, his family on December 22 brought his coffin to the square where he was shot, placing it on the ground while a band played music. A mourner chanted protest slogans from loudspeakers beneath a large red banner commemorating the victims of what they called the “massacre”.

“They didn’t have to shoot like that,” Luzmila Alarcon, Jhonathan’s aunt, who also joined the protest, told Reuters at his memorial. “It looks like a clash between soldiers, but it’s citizens versus troops.”

She says deaths will incite more anger as people look for someone to take responsibility.

“There can’t be no government or agency responsible for this,” she said. “It’s not stray bullets or accidents. They’re direct military shots… This is not the way to appease the population.”

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