Lima (AFP) -
Peru's Congress opened a crisis session on Sunday amid growing pressure on the country's interim president, Manuel Merino, to resign after a violent crackdown on protests against his government left three people dead.
Merino only took office on Tuesday, but more than half of his cabinet resigned on Saturday night.
The meeting of the leaders of the nine parties in Congress was called by the body's new speaker, Luis Valdez, who said the situation in Peru had become 'untenable' after the police crackdown.
Valdez, who replaced Merino as speaker, called for the president's 'immediate resignation.'
Thousands have taken to the streets in days of protests against Merino following the ouster of his popular predecessor Martin Vizcarra, who was impeached on corruption allegations on Monday.
'I ask Mr. Merino to evaluate his immediate resignation,' Valdez told Channel N television.
'Congress must apologize to the country for such an irresponsible decision (to remove Vizcarra),' said lawmaker Mirtha Vasquez of the Frente Amplio party, one of 19 lawmakers who voted against his impeachment, as she arrived at the Congress.
The ultimatum came after news of the death of three protesters during a massive and peaceful march in Lima, which was repressed by police firing shotgun pellets and tear gas.
Lima mayor Jorge Munoz, from the same center-right Popular Action party as Merino, also demanded the resignation of the president.
'I just found out about the third death' in the protests, said the Archbishop of Lima, Carlos Castillo, deploring the police crackdown in a statement to state television.
Police reported two deaths, while the National Human Rights Coordinator indicated it was investigating whether there were four.
The Ombudsman's Office said the first fatality, a 25-year-old man, was killed by pellet shots to the head and face. At least 112 protesters were injured, the health ministry said.
The police tactics have been criticized by the UN and rights organizations such as Amnesty International since the protests began on Tuesday.
- Ministers resign -
Ten of the 18 ministers in Merino's cabinet announced their resignation Saturday night after the police crackdown, according to local media.
The political crisis appeared to be heading towards the resignation of Merino, whose whereabouts were unknown early Sunday.
'I'm calling him and I can't get through, I have no idea if he has resigned. I'm not a fortune teller,' Prime Minister Antero Flores Araoz, the government's number two, told RPP radio.
Lima's international airport said it was closed due to the night curfew.
Merino has remained silent since the crackdown on Saturday and the call for his resignation.
At around 2:00 am (0700 GMT) Sunday, the government released a photo of Merino meeting with his cabinet, but doubts arose as to when it was taken because it showed the health minister who had resigned hours earlier.
- Tear gas -
Thousands took to the streets on Saturday in opposition to Merino, the former Congress speaker who assumed office on Tuesday as Peru's third president in four years.
The mostly young protesters gathered in various cities to oppose what they call a parliamentary coup against ousted Vizcarra.
In Lima, police again used tear gas fired from helicopters to disperse protesters who were threatening to march towards the Congress building.
They carried signs reading 'Merino, you are not my president' and 'Merino impostor.'
A group of protesters approached the area around Merino's home, east of Lima, banging pots and drums.
When he took office, Merino said he would respect the calendar for the next general elections, scheduled for April 11, 2021 and would leave power on July 28, 2021, the day when Vizcarra's mandate was to end.
Vizcarra had broad popular support since succeeding Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, the former Wall Street banker who was forced to resign under threat of impeachment over corruption allegations in 2018.
Congress impeached and dismissed Vizcarra on Monday over allegations he took kickbacks from developers when he was governor of the Moquegua region in 2014, charges he denies.