Manuel Merino sworn in after familiar ouster of a Peruvian president
Martin Vizcarra's removal plunges South American country into political turmoil
The head of Peru's congress, Manuel Merino, was sworn in as the Andean nation's president on Tuesday, and vowed that elections set for April would stand after lawmakers removed Martín Vizcarra on corruption charges.
Merino, a businessman from the minority Popular Action party, will serve until the end of July 2021, following already-scheduled April 11 elections.
In a speech after the swearing-in ceremony, Merino, 59, sought to temper widespread concerns, promising an orderly transition and elections.
"There is nothing to celebrate here, this is a difficult moment for the country," Merino told Peruvians. "Our first commitment before the country is to confirm our democratic convictions, and our respect for the election timetable."
Vizcarra's removal from office plunges the world's No. 2 copper producer into political turmoil as it looks to recover from an economic recession brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Vizcarra was ousted after an impeachment trial over allegations of bribery, the second such trial he has faced in two months.
He joins a long list of Peruvian politicians ensnared in allegations of corruption — including the man he succeeded, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Another former president, Alan Garcia, died by suicide last year while the subject of a corruption probe.
Vizcarra, an anti-corruption crusader, continued to question Congress's decision to oust him on Tuesday, telling reporters that Merino's government "raised concerns" because it lacked legitimacy.
Several protests involving hundreds of people continued in cities throughout the country in support of Vizcarra. Before he returned to domestic politics, he served as Peru's ambassador to Canada in Ottawa.
In downtown Lima, the capital, police fired tear gas at protesters who waved banners and signs and demanded Vizcarra's return.
The political shock hit the country's economy as well.
Peru's sol currency plummeted to an 18-year low in early trading on Tuesday. Most analysts had anticipated Vizcarra would survive the impeachment vote.
The country's congress, led by Merino, has twice approved the partial withdrawal of private pension funds amid the pandemic that has ravaged the economy, unnerving some analysts and politicians who accuse him of a populist bent.
Ravaged by the coronavirus
In his speech, Merino told Peruvians he would focus on taming the coronavirus outbreak in the coming months, as well as righting the country's ailing economy.
There have been 34,879 coronavirus deaths in Peru, according to tracking by Johns Hopkins University. At 109 deaths per 100,000 people, Peru ranks only behind Belgium for the highest death toll using that measurement.
The opposition-dominated congress put forward 105 votes to oust Vizcarra over accusations that as a governor he accepted bribes from companies that won public works contracts.
That far exceeded the 87-vote threshold out of 130 needed to remove him from office. There were 19 votes against his ouster and four abstentions.
Vizcarra, 57, lacked a party in the fragmented congress, and had a tense relationship with lawmakers, with whom he frequently locked horns over his anti-graft agenda. He dissolved congress last year after a long-running standoff, a move that prompted criticism by right-wing lawmakers.
Lawmakers sympathetic to Vizcarra rejected his ouster and warned that the decision would heighten instability in the Andean country.
"This is a coup in disguise. We need calm, but also a lot of citizen surveillance," George Forsyth, a mayor and one of the early front-runners for the 2021 election, said on Twitter.
Francisco Sagastegui, a lawmaker with the centrist Partido Morado, called the vote an "incorrect decision."
Video circulated on social media from protests Monday night showing congressman Ricardo Burga, who voted in favour of the impeachment motion, being punched in the face by a bystander as he spoke to television reporters.
With files from CBC News