LIMA – The death toll from clashes between indigenous protesters and police at the airport in the southeastern Peruvian highland city of Juliaca has risen to five, while the government announced it will issue a new decree aimed at resolving the conflict.
Jacinto Ticona, coordinator of the National Ombud’s Office, said that five people have died from gunshot and pellet wounds to the head, chest and stomach, while 30 individuals wounded in Friday’s fighting were being treated at a hospital and a clinic in the city.
For her part, Prime Minister Rosario Fernandez said at a press conference that a multi-sectoral commission was negotiating with representatives from the Puno region, where Juliaca is located, to craft a decree that addresses protesters’ demands.
Fernandez said negotiators had already analyzed the pollution of the Ramis River by mining activity – the issue that triggered the protests in Juliaca involving residents of the nearby province of Azangaro – but that the clashes at the airport erupted while talks were underway on a packet of measures.
Two Cabinet ministers are in talks with protesters on a new decree that addresses their concerns about the pollution, the prime minister said, adding that another five executive orders aimed at ending more than a month of strikes and roadblocks in the Puno region were approved on Friday.
“There is no justification for ... violence on that scale,” which seriously threatened the landing of an airplane at the Juliaca airport on Friday, Fernandez said.
Around 1,000 demonstrators taking part in a 48-hour strike in Juliaca to protest the water pollution tried to occupy the airport before they were driven away by police and army soldiers, who fired tear gas and shots into the air, the National Ombud’s Office and media on the scene reported.
Fernandez said acts of violence in Puno, as well as others this week in the southwestern Andean cities of Huancavelica and Huancayo that were sparked by separate grievances, “appeared suddenly” and were “coordinated suspiciously.”
She said President Alan Garcia’s government is committed to handing over power on July 28 to President-elect Ollanta Humala but until that time will exercise its authority in bringing the violent demonstrations under control.
The prime minister urged protesters from Azangaro to return to their homes because the government is working in “very good faith” to find a negotiated solution.
For his part, Interior Minister Miguel Hidalgo said 350 police had been deployed to the Juliaca airport to impede protesters from occupying the facility but that demonstrators on Friday burned part of the runway and destroyed landing lights.
“What we’re worried about now is Azangaro because there’s a violent demonstration in that city targeting the police station,” Hidalgo said at a press conference.
Flights to the Juliaca airport were suspended on Friday after the violent incidents, but the facility is now under police control, the minister said.
The Peruvian government announced Friday that it had agreed to a demand by protesters that it cancel Canadian firm Bear Greek Mining Corporation’s Santa Ana mining project in the Puno region.
Protesters, meanwhile, pulled back from an initial call for a ban on all mining activity in the region and instead insisted only that they be consulted beforehand about that type of activity.