Peru closes Machu Picchu as anti-government protests rise

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Peru closed indefinitely the famous ancient ruins of Machu Picchu on Saturday, in the latest sign that anti-government protests that began last month are increasingly gripping the South American nation.

The culture ministry said it closed the country’s most famous tourist attraction, as well as the Inca Trail leading to the site, “to protect the safety of tourists and the general population.”

Tourism Minister Luis Fernando Elguero said at a press conference that 417 visitors were stuck in Machu Picchu who could not get out, more than 300 of them foreigners.

The closure of the Inca citadel, which dates back to the 15th century and is often cited as one of the new seven wonders of the world, came after protesters arrived in Lima, many of whom had come to the capital from outlying Andean regions, to demand the resignation of President Dina Boluarte.

Also on Saturday, police raided Peru’s most important public university in Lima to evict protesters who were stationed on campus during major demonstrations. More than 100 people have been detained, Interior Minister Vicente Romero said.

Until recently, the protests were concentrated in the south of the country. They began last month after then-president Pedro Castillo, Peru’s first leader from the Andean countryside, was impeached and jailed for trying to dissolve Congress.

The demonstrators are demanding the resignation of Boluarte, the former vice president who took office on December 7 and replaced Castillo. They also want the dissolution of the Congress and the holding of new elections. Castillo is currently being held on charges of rebellion.

More than 55 people died in the ensuing riots, most recently on Friday night when a protester was killed and at least nine people were injured in clashes with police in Puno. A total of 21 protesters and one policeman were killed in the southern region.

On Saturday morning, the police used a small tank to break into the National University of San Marcos.

Javier Kutipa, 39, who arrived by bus from Puno, had been sleeping on the floor there since Thursday, but left for breakfast just before the police arrived. He called the police action “virtually an assault” using helicopters, tear gas and small tanks.

“This angers us. The only thing the government is doing with these detentions is increasing the tension,” Kutipa said. He added that “when the population finds out about this, they will react more radically.”

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the law enforcement building where the detainees were held Saturday night, chanting “Freedom” and “We are students, not terrorists.” More people gathered at other points in the center of Lima.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed “concern about police incursions, evictions and mass detentions” at the university and called on the state to “guarantee immunity and due process for all people.”

The university issued a press release saying the police raid came after protesters “attacked” security personnel.

Cusco, where Machu Picchu is located, was the site of the most violent clashes, resulting in significant losses in tourism revenue. Cusco airport was briefly closed this week after protesters got tired of storming it.

Rail links to Machu Picchu have been closed since Thursday due to track damage.

According to Helguero, some stranded hikers have decided to go to Piscacucho, the nearest village, “but that involves a walk of six, seven or more hours, and only a few people can do it.”

The culture ministry said tourists who had already purchased Machu Picchu tickets from Saturday until one month after the protests ended would be able to receive a full refund.

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