Peru bans Bolivia's Evo Morales as political crisis simmers

FILE PHOTO: Bolivia's former President Evo Morales gestures as he speaks during a news conference in Mexico City, Mexico October 22, 2021. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

LIMA (Reuters) -Peru barred Bolivia's socialist former president, Evo Morales, from entering its territory on Monday, Peru's government announced in a statement, a decision Morales later derided as an attack meant to distract from rights violations.

The move to ban Morales, along with eight other unidentified Bolivians, follows weeks of deadly protests in Peru targeting President Dina Boluarte following last month's swift removal of former President Pedro Castillo, with some demonstrations held near the border with Bolivia.

Castillo's attempt to unlawfully dissolve Congress ahead of a looming impeachment vote unleashed a fresh political crisis in the South American nation, one of the world's top copper producers. He had been in office for less than two tumultuous years.

The statement from Peru's interior ministry said Bolivian citizens have entered the country in recent months to carry out political activities, violating immigration laws while undermining national security.

Morales, one of Latin America's most prominent leftists, has publicly backed Castillo, criticizing his ouster and subsequent arrest as illegal.

The indigenous Bolivian leader served as president for some 14 years through 2019 until he resigned under intense pressure following a disputed election and mass protests.

Morales took to Twitter on Monday to respond to the decision to deny him entry to Peru.

"Now they attack us to distract and dodge responsibility for grave violations of the human rights of our Peruvian brothers," he wrote, adding that political conflicts cannot be resolved with "expulsions, prohibitions or repression."

Shortly after the ban was announced, Peru Prime Minister Alberto Otarola blamed Morales for stoking unrest.

"We are closely watching not only the attitude of Mr. Morales, but also of those who work with him in southern Peru," he told reporters. "They have been very active in promoting a situation of crisis."

Last week, Peru's defense minister also accused foreigners of stirring up divisive protests.

After Castillo was removed from office and detained on charges of fomenting rebellion, thousands of protesters took to the streets demanding Boluarte's resignation, the release of Castillo, the closure of Congress, and a new constitution.

While Castillo remains jailed in pretrial detention, more than 20 people have been killed in the protests, which resumed last week after a pause for the holidays.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino in LimaWriting by Valentine HilaireEditing by Isabel Woodford, Bill Berkrot and Matthew Lewis)

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