LIMA, Peru (Reuters) -- Hundreds of striking workers broke through the
main gates of Peru's presidential palace on Wednesday and stormed the
parade ground, where they clashed with police and soldiers, witnesses said.
In Peru's most violent protest in years, at least 300 workers, demonstrating
against President Alberto Fujimori's possible re-election bid and demanding
more jobs, smashed palace windows and raided a basement storage room
during three hours of violence that rocked the city center.
In a 30-minute battle, dozens of police and soldiers, who burst from the
palace's main entrance door, fired shots in the air and pushed the protesters
from the parade area back into Lima's main square.
Government Palace and its parade area, where the president holds martial
ceremonies to welcome visitors, is a symbol of Fujimori's statesmanship and
was believed by Peruvians to be one of the most heavily guarded sites in the
Fujimori inspects the damage
During the battle, Fujimori remained inside the palace. He later inspected
the battle ground -- littered with glass, banners and sticks -- from an
In the disturbances, which also included clashes with police outside
Congress and the looting of several downtown shops, at least a dozen
people were injured and about 20 were arrested, authorities and
The palace incident, which was the worst bout of violence in the protest,
appeared to erupt spontaneously. It mainly involved teen-agers.
Brandishing sticks and iron bars, the teens congregated outside Government
Palace and, as they pressed against the iron railings, the gates broke open,
allowing them to flood onto the parade ground.
Strikers protest congressional vote
About 5,000 workers, obeying a nationwide strike call by Peru's largest
unions, marched in Lima to protest a congressional vote that quashed calls
for a referendum over whether Fujimori could run for re-election.
The strike was partially obeyed in Lima and several other cities, where
workers marked the protest with peaceful marches, union leaders said.
The protesters at Government Palace initially crowded onto the parade
ground -- the size of a small soccer field -- without encountering
They spent about 15 minutes breaking palace windows with sticks and
smashing furniture inside the store, where they helped themselves to
ceremonial uniforms and swords. They daubed a side wall of the presidential
palace with graffiti labeling Fujimori a "dictator."
About 50 soldiers and police with riot shields burst out of the palace
threw tear gas canisters, forcing the workers back into the main square.
Other police fired shots in the air from a nearby roof, witnesses said.
A Machiavellian plot?
Political analysts and local media commentators questioned how the security
forces, which usually keep a tight control on protests in Lima, allowed
Wednesday's march to become so violent. Some suspected a Machiavellian
"The government has permitted these incidents to happen. It would not
surprise me that they themselves provoked it to justify criticizing the march
and avoiding new protests in the future," sociologist Juan Osio said.
Fujimori's popularity dropped sharply after last month's vote in Congress
quashing any referendum bid. While his economic policies are popular with
foreign investors, they have failed to reduce unemployment.
Peruvian law does not make clear whether Fujimori can serve more than
two terms -- a legal loophole that has caused huge controversy since
Congress passed a 1996 bill interpreting the constitution to allow him a
possible third bid.
Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.