Head of Peru's Congress assumes presidency, vows to respect election timetable
By Marco Aquino LIMA (Reuters) - 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 Martin Vizcarra on corruption charges. Merino, a businessman and member of the center-right Popular Action party, will serve as interim president until July, following the already-scheduled April 11 elections.
By Marco Aquino
LIMA (Reuters) - 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 Martin Vizcarra on corruption charges.
Merino, a businessman and member of the center-right Popular Action party, will serve as interim president until July, following the already-scheduled April 11 elections.
In a speech after the swearing-in ceremony, Merino, 59, sought to temper widespread concerns of pending political chaos in the world's No. 2 copper producer, 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."
Merino's ascension to the presidency comes the day after Peru's opposition-led Congress voted overwhelmingly to oust the centrist Vizcarra late on Monday after an impeachment trial over allegations of bribery, the second such trial he has faced in two months.
Vizcarra's abrupt removal means he joins a long list of Peruvian politicians ensnared in allegations of corruption, piling a political crisis atop the economic recession induced by the coronavirus pandemic.
The former president, an anti-corruption crusader, continued to question Congress' 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. 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, and dollar-denominated government bonds also tumbled on the news of Vizcarra's removal, with market watchers concerned of a further drift toward populism. 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.
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.
Former soccer goalkeeper George Forsyth, the favorite among prospective candidates for the presidency in recent polls, nonetheless urged vigilance during the transition.
"This is a coup in disguise. We need calm, but also a lot of citizen surveillance," he said on Twitter.
CONFIEP, a trade group for private business, urged authorities to assure prompt and transparent elections.
"We appeal to calm and resilience so that this episode does not take away from the efforts that all Peruvians have made to overcome the pandemic," the union said on Twitter.
(Reporting by Marco Aquino; writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown)
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