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Peru's interim president resigns as chaos embroils nation

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

People celebrate after the resignation of interim president Manuel Merino, at Plaza San Martin in Lima, Peru, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020. Merino resigned after a violent crackdown on protests that left at least two people dead followed by an exodus of his cabinet members. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

LIMA – Peru’s interim president resigned Sunday as the nation plunged into its worst constitutional crisis in two decades following massive protests unleashed when Congress ousted the nation’s popular leader.

In a short televised address, Manuel Merino said Congress acted within the law when he was sworn into office as chief of state Tuesday, despite protesters’ allegations that legislators had staged a parliamentary coup.

“I, like everyone, want what’s best for our country,” he said.

The politician agreed to step down after a night of unrest in which two young protesters were killed and half his Cabinet resigned. Peruvians cheered the decision, waving their nation’s red and white flag on the streets of Lima and chanting “We did it!” But there is still no clear playbook for what comes next.

Congress called an emergency session for Sunday evening to select a new president, but was still debating the question late into the night. Meanwhile, ex-President Martín Vizcarra – whose ouster sparked the upheaval – called on the country’s highest court to step in.

“It can’t be that the institution that got us into this political crisis, that has for five days paralyzed Peru, with deaths, is going to give us a solution, choosing the person who they best see fit,” Vizcarra said.

Peru has much at stake: The country is in the throes of one of the world’s most lethal coronavirus outbreaks and political analysts say the constitutional crisis has cast the country’s democracy into jeopardy.

“I think this is the most serious democratic and human rights crisis we have seen since Fujimori,” said analyst Alonso Gurmendi Dunkelberg, referring to the turbulent rule of strongman Alberto Fujimori from 1990 to 2000.