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In Midst Of Pandemic Crisis, Peru’s Legislature Impeaches The Nation’s President

Photo caption:

Photo by Martin Mejia AP

Peru's President Martín Vizcarra speaks in front of the presidential palace after lawmakers voted to remove him from office in Lima, Peru, Monday. Peruvian lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to impeach Vizcarra, expressing anger over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and citing unproven corruption allegations.

Peru's unicameral legislature voted overwhelmingly Monday night to remove President Martín Vizcarra from office, condemning his management of the coronavirus pandemic and alleging he had taken bribes years ago while serving as a regional governor.

Vizcarra, in a speech to the legislature following his impeachment, denied the allegations but said he would not contest his removal and would leave the presidential palace for his private home by the end of the day. An earlier attempt to impeach Vizcarra in September failed.

"Because of his negligence and incapacity we've lost thousands of compatriots," lawmaker Robinson Gupioc said during the more than five hours of debate, according to The Associated Press.

Peru has one of the world's highest deaths per capita due to the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University. The South American country of 32 million is approaching 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and almost 35,000 dead.

During the debate, lawmakers blamed Vizcarra for severe shortages of therapeutic oxygen and the government's strategy of identifying infections through the use of antibody tests, which do not detect the disease in its early stages.

Vizcarra is accused of taking bribes earlier this decade from construction companies seeking government contracts. His defenders point out that the allegations come from construction managers who are themselves accused of crimes and may be offering information in exchange for reduced sentences, according to the AP.

In a tweet following his impeachment addressed to the "Peruvian People," Vizcarra wrote, "I leave with a clear conscience, my head held high and my duty accomplished."

Vizcarra, 57, is far more popular in Peru than the legislature, according to the AP. Elected in 2016 as first vice president, Vizcarra became president in 2018 after the resignation of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski following allegations of corruption. Vizcarra governed on an anti-corruption platform.

Following the vote, thousands of supporters gathered in the streets of the capital, Lima, some shouting "Get out the coup plotters!" referring to lawmakers, according to the AP.

Because the posts of first and second vice president remain vacant, the presiding member of Congress, Manuel Merino, will be sworn in Tuesday as interim president.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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