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Peru closes Machu Picchu airport as nationwide protests persist

Policemen patrol the Pan-American highway at La Joya as demonstrators hold a blockade to demand the resignation of Peruvian President Dina Boluarte in Arequipa, Peru. - AFP
Policemen patrol the Pan-American highway at La Joya as demonstrators hold a blockade to demand the resignation of Peruvian President Dina Boluarte in Arequipa, Peru. - AFP

CUSCO, Peru: Rail and air links to Peru's famed Machu Picchu site had been cut early Friday after a flare-up in weeks-long protests that has killed dozens.


The airport in Cusco, gateway to Peru's tourism crown jewel, was closed as protests kicked off in the city, leading to clashes with police.


Supporters of ousted president Pedro Castillo have marched and barricaded streets around the South American country since December, demanding new elections and the removal of current leader Dina Boluarte.


The demonstrations have at times turned violent and at least 42 people have been killed in clashes with security forces, including a police officer burned alive in a vehicle, while hundreds more have been injured.


"My uncle is dead. He had two bullets in his body," said Sonia Quispe, niece of Marcos Quispe, who was among an initial count of 17 killed during a violent attempt to take over the airport in the city of Juliaca on Monday.


"His death has been so tragic. They killed him in the clashes at the airport. Who shot him? The police."


The 17 were laid to rest Thursday in Juliaca, a city in the southern Puno region close to the Bolivian border.


A 16-year-old protester, hospitalized since Monday, died Thursday in the city, bringing the total number of civilians killed there to 18.


In Cusco, the main airport was closed suddenly Thursday "as a preventative measure," Peru's transportation ministry announced on Twitter, adding that the closure would be "indefinite".


It is the second time the airport has shut down since the unrest began.


Train connections between Cusco and Machu Picchu were also suspended until further notice, the railway company said in a statement citing safety concerns.


Major flashpoints have occurred near Peru's airports, which are guarded by security forces after protesters stormed runways during an initial wave of uprisings in early December.


Clashes broke out Wednesday night in Cusco, the former capital of the Incan empire, with protesters attempting to enter the airport, while some torched a bus station, attacked shops and blocked train tracks with large rocks.


Peru's rights ombudsman said one person died and more than 50 people, including 19 police officers, were injured in the turmoil, while police said they had arrested 11 people.


Leonela, a university student protesting in Cusco on Thursday, said: "We ask Dina Boluarte to be conscientious as a mother, as a daughter, as a Peruvian.


"She should resign from her position... the advancement of the general elections should be now."


Also on Thursday, trade unions, left-wing parties and social collectives marched through Lima, the capital that has largely been spared violence so far, to denounce a "racist and classist... dictatorship."


"There is a lot of indignation, pain, suffering," said fashion designer Doris Zevallos, who was at the protest.


"This is causing psychological damage to the entire population, who are aware of what is happening inside the country, especially with our provincial brothers and sisters who are being killed as they are, a total massacre." - AFP


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