Judge to rule on Castillo’s detention amid Peru protests


LIMA, Peru — A judge in Peru was deciding Thursday whether ousted President Pedro Castillo will remain in custody while authorities build their rebellion case against him with a positive ruling expected to ignite further protests.

The ruling, which would extend his detention for up to 18 months, would come a day after the South American country’s government declared a police state as it struggles to calm nationwide violent protests stemming from Castillo’s ouster last week.

The virtual hearing took place even though Castillo refused to be served with a notification.

Protesters are demanding Castillo’s freedom, the resignation of President Dina Boluarte and the immediate scheduling of general elections to pick a new president and replace all members of Congress.

Castillo was taken into custody after he was ousted by lawmakers when he sought to dissolve Congress ahead of an impeachment vote.

Protests have been particularly violent outside Lima. At least six people have died since the demonstrations began Wednesday. All the deaths took place in rural, impoverished communities outside Lima, strongholds for Castillo, a political neophyte and former schoolteacher of humble roots from a poor Andean mountain district.

Despite the declaration allowing the armed forces to help maintain public order, in Andahuaylas, where at least four people have died since the demonstrations began, no soldiers were on the streets Thursday.

Some grocery store owners were cleaning the roads littered with rocks and burned tires, but they planned to close the stores because of planned protests led by peasants from nearby rural communities.

Judge Cesar San Martin Castro’s decision expected Thursday would come after Congress stripped Castillo of the privilege that keeps presidents from facing criminal charges.

Boluarte, ahead of Castillo’s hearing, told reporters the general elections could potentially be scheduled for December 2023, four months earlier than the timing she had proposed Congress Monday.

The state of emergency declaration suspends the rights of assembly and freedom of movement and empowers the police, supported by the military, to search people’s homes without permission or judicial order. Defense Minister Luis Otarola Peñaranda said the declaration was agreed to by the council of ministers.

On Wednesday, Boluarte pleaded for calm as demonstrations continued against her and Congress.

“Peru cannot overflow with blood,” she said.

Castillo was ousted by lawmakers Dec. 7 after he sought to dissolve Congress ahead of their third attempt to impeach him. His vehicle was intercepted as he traveled through Lima’s streets with his security detail. Prosecutors accused him of trying to seek political asylum at the Mexican Embassy.

In a handwritten letter shared Wednesday with The Associated Press by his associate Mauro Gonzales, Castillo asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to intercede for his “rights and the rights of my Peruvian brothers who cry out for justice.” The commission investigates allegations of human rights violations and litigates them in some cases.

In the last week, protesters have burned police stations, taken over an airstrip used by the armed forces and invaded the runway of the international airport in Arequipa, a gateway to some of Peru’s tourist attractions. The passenger train that carries visitors to Machu Picchu suspended service, and roadblocks on the Pan-American Highway have stranded trailer trucks for days, spoiling food bound for the capital.

By Wednesday, members of the armed forces had already been deployed to Arequipa and other areas outside Lima. Securing rural areas far from the capital could take longer.

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