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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fujimori Tries to Quell Peru Protests




LIMA, Peru -- Peru's President Alberto Fujimori chose a moderate opponent as prime minister on Wednesday to try to improve his democratic credentials as tens of thousands of people converged on Lima to protest against his third term in power.


The wily 61-year-old politician will be sworn in Friday after elections boycotted by the opposition for alleged fraud f a charge echoed by foreign powers, who are mostly sending ministers or diplomats to Friday's ceremony.


Fujimori presented his new prime minister, Federico Salas, the 50-year-old mayor of one of Peru's poorest provincial capitals, as proof of political consensus and social sensitivity in the nation of 25 million he has ruled for a decade.


"We want our government to show more consensus," he said. "Salas' presence proves what we have always shown: openness to people who are not members of the governing party."


But in the Plaza de Armas outside his palace unionists and students kicking off a three-day protest against "the dictator" to culminate Friday were not convinced the Cabinet change would alter things.


"I may just sell chicken in the streets, but I'm no idiot. I know what's happening in my country," said Carmen, 38. "They call us subversives and terrorists, but we are just mothers."


"Salas is a pawn used by Fujimori to make his election look legitimate," said Daniel, a 40-year-old clerk waving a banner supporting defeated presidential candidate Alejandro Toledo, the runner-up in April's first-round vote, which forced a May 28 runoff in which Fujimori eventually ran unopposed.


Toledo has promised that a quarter of a million people will move on Lima from the jungle, Andean highlands and Pacific coast in buses, open trucks and boats to gather outside the parliament on Friday, when Fujimori takes office.


The event recalled the "horse ride to hope" in 1997, when Salas rode into Lima on a white mount, leading a protest against poverty in the Huancavalica region of the Andes. But in April's balloting, Salas won just 3 percent of the votes as an opposition candidate.


A survey by Datum pollsters showed support for the march at 43 percent, against 33 percent a month earlier, while Fujimori's support had slipped to 43 percent from 50 percent.


"I don't know if Fujimori will improve his government's image at all with this appointment, though he is trying," said top columnist Mirko Lauer of opposition daily La Republica.


The post of prime minister, in which Salas replaces Alberto Bustamante, has little real power. Fujimori said Salas would lead job creation in a country where half the population lives in poverty, opening what he termed "a new phase of construction."


"The political discrepancies about the campaign will move into the background now," said Fujimori, repeating his denials of election fraud and dismissing widespread charges of human rights abuses by his security forces.


While Amnesty International has warned of bloodshed in this week's mass protests and many marchers carried homemade masks crafted from cola bottles and cotton soaked in vinegar to protect against tear gas, Fujimori said he was determined that "the march will go ahead without incidents."


Much of his popularity stems from wiping out the leftist rebels who took Peru to the brink of civil war in the late 1980s and early 1990s, cracking down on cocaine trafficking and reviving an economy once crippled by hyperinflation.