(LIMA) Peru on Saturday closed the famous ancient ruins of Machu Picchu indefinitely, in the latest sign of anti-government protests that began last month and are increasingly spreading across the South American country.
The Culture Ministry said it closed the country’s most popular 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 Helguero said at a press conference that 417 visitors were stranded in Machu Picchu on Saturday and unable to get out, including more than 300 foreigners.
Close to the Inca fortress dating back to the 15th centuryH A century, often referred to as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, comes as protesters descend on Lima, many of them traveling to the capital from the Andean hinterland, to demand the resignation of President Dina Boulwart.
Police raided Peru’s largest public university in Lima on Saturday to evacuate protesters who were sheltered on campus while they were taking part in large demonstrations. Interior Minister Vicente Romero said more than 100 people had been arrested.
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 of rural Andean descent, was impeached and jailed for trying to dissolve Congress.
Demonstrators are calling for the resignation of Mr.I Boluarte, the former vice president, was sworn in on Dec. 7 to replace Mr. Castillo. They also want to dissolve Congress and hold new elections. Mr. Castillo is currently being held on charges of insurrection.
More than 55 people have been killed in the ensuing unrest, most recently on Friday and Saturday night when a protester was killed and at least nine others injured in clashes with police in Puno. 21 demonstrators and a policeman were killed in the southern region.
On Saturday morning, the police used a small tank to storm the National University of San Marcos.
Javier Cotiba, 39, who traveled by bus from Puno, had been sleeping on the floor there since Thursday, but left for breakfast just before police arrived. He described the police action as an “actual attack” with helicopters, tear gas and small tanks.
“It upsets us. The only thing the government is doing with these arrests is escalating tensions,” Kotiba said. He believes that “when the population finds out, they will respond in a more radical way.”
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the law enforcement offices where the detainees were held on Saturday night, chanting “Freedom” and “We are students, not terrorists”. Others gathered at other locations in downtown Lima.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said it was “concerned about police raids, mass expulsions and arrests” at the university and urged the state to “ensure the integrity and due process of all”.
The university issued a press release stating that the raid took place after the demonstrators “assaulted” the security men.
Cusco, where Machu Picchu is located, has seen some of the most intense clashes, resulting in a significant loss of tourism revenue. Cusco airport was briefly closed this week after protesters tried to storm it.
Train service to Machu Picchu has been closed since Thursday due to track damage.
Some of the stranded tourists have chosen to walk to Piscakucho, the nearest village, Minister Helgheru said, “but this involves walking for six or seven hours or more and only a few people get to do it.”
The Culture Ministry said that tourists who had already purchased tickets to Machu Picchu from Saturday until a month after the protests ended would be able to get a full refund.
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