Peru closes Machu Picchu as anti-government protests grow

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

The Ministry of Culture said it had 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 public”.

There were 417 visitors trapped in Machu Picchu and unable to get out, more than 300 of them foreigners, Tourism Minister Luis Fernando Helguero said at a news conference.

The closure of the Inca citadel which dates back to the 15th century and is often referred to as one of the New Seven Wonders of the Ancient World comes after protesters descend on Lima, many of them traveling to the capital from remote Andean regions to demand the resignation of President Dina boluarte.

Also on Saturday, police raided Peru’s main public university in Lima to evict protesters sheltered on campus as they took part in large demonstrations. More than 100 people were detained, Interior Minister Vicente Romero said.

Until recently, protests were concentrated in the south of the country. They began last month after then-President Pedro Castillo, Peru’s first leader with a rural Andean background, was impeached and imprisoned for attempting to dissolve Congress.

Protesters demand the resignation of Boluarte, the former vice president who was sworn in on December 7 to replace Castillo. They also want Congress dissolved and new elections held. Castillo is currently being held on charges of rebellion.

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

On Saturday morning, police used a small tank to force their way into the National University of San Marcos in the morning.

Javier Cutipa, 39, who traveled by bus from Puno, had been sleeping on the floor there since Thursday, but left just before police arrived for breakfast. He described the police response as “practically an attack”, using helicopters, tear gas and small tanks.

“This outrages us. All the government is doing with these detentions is increasing tensions,” Cutipa said, adding that “when the population finds out about this, they will react more radically.”

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

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed “concern about the police raid, eviction and mass detentions” at the university and urged the state to “guarantee the integrity and due process of all people”.

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

Cusco, where Machu Picchu is located, has been the site of some of the most intense clashes, leading to a significant loss of tourism revenue. Cusco’s airport was briefly closed this week after protesters tired of storming it.

Train service to Machu Picchu has been closed since Thursday due to track damage.

Some stranded tourists have chosen to leave by walking to Piscacucho, the closest village, Helguero said, “but that means a walk of six, seven hours or more and only a few people can do it.”

Tourists who had already bought tickets to Machu Picchu from Saturday to a month after the protests ended can get a full refund, the culture ministry said.

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