Peru’s attorney general’s office said it had opened an investigation into new president Dina Boluarte and members of her cabinet to investigate allegations of genocide after violent clashes that left at least 40 people dead and hundreds more injured since early December.
The new government, however, won a vote of confidence in Congress by a wide margin on Tuesday night. A loss would have triggered a cabinet reshuffle and the resignation of Prime Minister Alberto Otarola.
The investigation comes after 17 civilians were killed in the southern Puno region on Monday – the deadliest day of protest since former President Pedro Castillo was ousted and detained last month. The violence continued on Tuesday with a police officer who died after his car was set on fire.
The attorney general’s office said on Tuesday it was investigating Boluarte, Otarola, Defense Minister Jorge Chavez and Interior Minister Victor Rojas for “genocide, aggravated homicide and serious bodily harm.”
Human rights groups have accused authorities of using firearms on protesters and dropping smoke bombs from helicopters. The military says protesters used weapons and homemade explosives.
The attorney general’s office also said it would investigate former prime minister Pedro Angulo and former interior minister Cesar Cervantes, who both served under Boluarte for just a few weeks, for their involvement in the management demonstrations.
The offices of the president and ministers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Castillo’s ouster, which came after he illegally tried to dissolve Congress, sparked a wave of protests across the country. The protesters demand the resignation of Boluarte, the dissolution of Congress, changes to the constitution and the release of Castillo.
The vote of confidence, a constitutional requirement after a new prime minister takes office, passed with 73 votes in favour, 43 against and 6 abstentions.
Otarola blamed organized attackers funded by “black” money for those killed on Monday. 68 other civilians and 75 policemen were reportedly injured.
Otarola also announced a three-day night curfew in Puno, aimed at suppressing violence. Local media footage showed the looting of businesses in Puno on Monday night, while the airport in the town of Juliaca in the region remained closed on Tuesday after 9,000 people reportedly tried to invade the premises.
Peru’s ombudsman’s office on Tuesday urged peaceful protests as well as prosecutors to fully investigate the deaths.
The office noted the “extreme violence” of the officer’s death, saying he was tortured before he died. The officer, identified as Jose Luis Soncco, had died in a burnt-out vehicle after what senior police commander Raul Alfaro called an “ambush” by a mob in Juliaca.
“They burned him alive,” Alfaro said.
The ombudsman’s office also condemned an arson attack on the residence of a congressman from Puno in the town of Ilave with members of his family still inside and called on the authorities to respect international standards regarding the use of force.
Castillo tweeted on Tuesday that those killed for “defending the country against the coup dictatorship” will never be forgotten.
He has been ordered to remain in pre-trial detention while he is investigated for fomenting the rebellion, a charge he denies. The former rural teacher who served less than two years of his five-year term before his dismissal says he remains Peru’s legitimate president.
Castillo’s ally Evo Morales, the former Bolivian president who was banned from entering Peru on Monday, also called for an end to what he calls “the genocide of our indigenous brothers”.
Later this week, a mission from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will visit Peru to assess the situation. Meanwhile, the United Nations has called for respect for human rights and has offered to mediate in the crisis.