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 affecting the South American country.

The Culture Ministry said it had closed the country’s most famous tourist attraction, as well as the Inca Trail that leads to the site “to protect the safety of tourists and the general population.”

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

The closure of the Inca citadel that dates back to the 15th century and is often referred to as one of the new seven wonders of the world comes as protesters poured into Lima, many traveling to the capital from remote Andean regions, to demand the resignation of President Dina Boluarte.

Also on Saturday, police raided Peru’s largest public university in Lima to evict protesters who were staying on campus while participating in large demonstrations. More than 100 people were detained, Interior Minister Vicente Romero said.

Until recently, the protests had been 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 indicted and jailed for trying to dissolve Congress.

The protesters are demanding the resignation of Boluarte, the former vice president who took office on December 7 to replace Castillo. They also want Congress dissolved and new elections held. Castillo is currently in custody on charges of rebellion.

More than 55 people have been killed in the ensuing riots, 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 protesters and one police officer have been killed in the southern region.

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

Javier Cutipa, 39, who was traveling 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 “practically an assault”, with helicopters, tear gas and small tanks.

“This outrages us. The only thing the government is doing with these arrests is worsening tensions,” Cutipa said. He added that “when the population finds out about this, they will react in a more radical way.”

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

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed “concern over the police incursion, eviction, and mass arrests” at the university and urged the State to “guarantee the integrity and due process of all persons.”

The university issued a press release saying the police raid took place after protesters “assaulted” security personnel.

Cusco, where Machu Picchu is located, has been the scene of some of the most intense fighting, resulting in a significant loss of tourism revenue. Cusco’s airport was briefly closed this week after protesters got tired of storming it.

The train service to Machu Picchu has been closed since Thursday due to damage to the tracks.

Some stranded tourists have chosen to walk to Piscacucho, the nearest town, Helguero said, “but that implies a walk of six, seven hours or more and only a few people can do it.”

Tourists who had already purchased tickets to Machu Picchu from Saturday until a month after the protests end will be able to get a full refund, the Culture Ministry said.

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