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Peru crackdown strikers { May 28 2003 }

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http://reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=2841593

Peru Troops, Strikers Clash in State of Emergency
Wed May 28, 2003 10:34 PM ET

By Missy Ryan
LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - Hospital officials said several protesters were wounded on Wednesday as soldiers fired in the air during violent clashes across Peru where strikers took to the streets in defiance of a government state of emergency and vowed to continue their crippling strikes.

At least 21 people were hurt, some from gunshot wounds, in Barranca, north of Lima, according to a local hospital official, as troops fired to disperse rock-throwing farmers a day after unpopular President Alejandro Toledo imposed a 30-day emergency banning strikers from streets.

"This has been a difficult day for the nation ... but it was a good day for the fatherland because 27 million Peruvians made the decision to establish order," said Prime Minister Luis Solari, flanked by other ministers who said calm had been restored throughout Peru.

Defense Minister Aurelio Loret de Mola denied that soldiers had fired directly at protesters, and Solari said most of the violence was due to troublemakers looking to incite unrest.

Earlier in the day, security forces fired tear gas and arrested teachers in the northern city of Chiclayo, while shops in the jungle city of Huanuco were shuttered to avoid looting. In Lima, police in riot gear turned water hoses on protesting court workers at the national justice palace.

Interior Minister Alberto Sanabria said 95 people were arrested across Peru in the latest in a series of widespread protests by Peruvians demanding better pay and conditions.

Health workers and farmers have, at least officially, temporarily called off strikes that disrupted highway transport with blockades of rocks and trees. But teachers, striking for more than two weeks demanding a rise of 210 soles ($60) to an average monthly wage of 700 soles ($200), were undeterred.

"The 100-sol ($29) raise they have offered us is insufficient ... so we teachers have the right to keep expressing our unhappiness in the streets," said Nilver Lopez, head of the SUTEP union that groups some 280,000 teachers.

Toledo's 2-year-old presidency has been marked by protests and a declining approval rating that now stands at 14 percent.

Many Peruvians complain Toledo -- a U.S.-trained former World Bank adviser -- has failed to fulfill ambitious promises of jobs, prosperity and a return to true democracy after the corrupt, hard-line rule of ex-President Alberto Fujimori.

Protests intensified in recent weeks with farmers, teachers, health and court workers pledging they would not give up on demands for wage rises and greater job security.

SIGN OF 'GOVERNMENT DESPAIR'

On Wednesday, many schools appeared to remain empty despite a promise to reopen. "This isn't democracy. They send out soldiers as soon as they are unable to manage," said teacher Carmen Fajardo, 58, banging cymbals at a Lima school.

Toledo last declared a state of emergency in June 2002. That measure was limited to the city of Arequipa amid protests, which killed three people, against the sale of two power firms.

Such decrees are not uncommon in Latin America, where governments sometimes resort to military responses to protests against unpopular policies.

Miguel Angel Bermudez, an analyst at private consultancy Maximixe in Lima, said the measure was a sign "of urgency, of the government's despair."

Peruvian stocks fell amid the political uncertainty but analysts said the emergency was unlikely to sully Peru's reputation as a Latin American investment safe haven. Peru's economy grew by 5.2 percent in 2002, fastest in the region.

(Additional reporting by Eduardo Orozco and Monica Vargas)



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