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Peru’s Castillo faces criminal charges as new President Boluarte takes the helm. From Reuters

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©Reuters. Supporters of ousted Peruvian President Pedro Castillo gather outside the Barbadillo police jail where he was being held after he was removed from office in an impeachment trial December 8, 2022 in Lima, Peru. REUTERS/Sebastian Castaneda 2/4

By Marco Aquino

LIMA (Reuters) – Peru’s former President Pedro Castillo faced a first court hearing over his arrest on charges of rebellion and conspiracy on Thursday, as his successor issued her first statements from the presidential palace.

Castillo’s swift fall from power on Wednesday came after lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to remove the leader after his failed attempt to rule by decree and dissolve Congress to avoid a third impeachment vote.

The Andean country has suffered intense bouts of political instability in recent years, with five presidents all failing to complete their elected terms in the past five years.

Castillo, a former teacher and union activist who won a narrow victory in 2021 supported by poor rural and Indigenous voters, was arrested on Wednesday on charges of “rebellion and conspiracy,” prosecutors said. At the same time, he faced separate corruption allegations.

Some Peruvians protested his arrest and on Thursday cried out their continued support for Castillo. “The battle has begun! Free Castillo!’ said a placard held by a protester in Lima. Other small protests led to clashes as police fired tear gas.

Castillo has been ordered to be jailed for seven days while the investigation into allegations that he staged a rebellion continues.

Castillo’s attorney, Victor Perez, dismissed the charges, arguing that such an act involved the use of weapons and violence, which he said had never happened. He called his client’s detention “illegal” and “arbitrary”.

A constitutional court separately dismissed Castillo’s claim for arbitrary detention on Thursday, ruling that police acted properly in his arrest.

The former president attended the hearing via conference call from a prison in Lima, where he is being held. He was asked if he wanted to address the court, but declined.

He has applied for asylum in Mexico and the Mexican and Peruvian authorities are consulting on the application, Mexico’s foreign minister said on Thursday. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has indicated he would be willing to grant asylum to fellow leftist Castillo.

The 53-year-old’s 17-month tenure was marked by unprecedented turnover among his ministers, as well as multiple corruption scandals, which he dismissed as politically motivated efforts by right-wing members of the opposition-controlled Congress aimed at undermining his government.

BOLUARTE ACCEPTANCE OFFICE

Castillo Vice President Dina Boluarte was sworn in as the South American country’s new president on Wednesday. This makes her the sixth female president in five years and the first woman to lead the nation of around 33 million people.

Boluarte, 60, has said little so far but is expected to start naming a new cabinet in the next few days, with expectations running high that she will opt for a unity government.

Peru, the world’s second-largest producer, has held the title of Latin America’s fastest-growing economy for the past decade despite political turmoil, but there are now signs that economic growth is slowing.

In brief comments Thursday morning to reporters at the presidential palace, Boluarte suggested calling snap elections might be “democratically respectable” but said she wanted to hold further talks first without adding details.

New elections could help Boluarte quell public anger at the ouster and current imprisonment of the democratically elected Castillo.

“Boluarte is not our President! If the people elect her, then I will recognize her,” Sonia Castaneda said at a street protest in the capital.

The new president also expressed hope that the Pacific Alliance’s regional summit with Colombia, Chile and Mexico, originally planned for next week in Lima, can still be saved.

“Relations with the countries of the region must continue,” she said, notably expressing her hope that Lopez Obrador would emerge.

“We will wait for him here with open arms,” ​​she said.