Hundreds of Peruvians collect towards Manuel Merino, the interim authorities has been decided

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© Reuters. Peruvians protest against Congress' decision to remove former President Martin Vizcarra in Lima

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From Marco Aquino

LIMA (Reuters) – Thousands of Peruvians took to the streets again on Saturday at rallies against President Manuel Merino while his interim government continued to defend the sudden overthrow of former President Martin Vizcarra as "constitutional" earlier this week.

In the afternoon, the demonstrators blocked many places in downtown Lima. The demonstrations started peacefully but became more intense in the early evening.

Early that day, hundreds of mostly young protesters unveiled a massive Peruvian flag and sang the national anthem in the central Plaza San Martín. Later, a group of hooded protesters confronted the police, threw stones and fireworks at them, and security forces fired back tear gas.

The city echoed with sirens, shouts and chants from protesters demanding Merino's removal.

Prime Minister Ántero Flores-Aráoz had previously told reporters that the removal of Vizcarra was legal on allegations of corruption by the opposition-dominated Congress. He said Merino had no intention of giving in to protesters' demands for his resignation.

"This was a constitutional change," said Flores-Aráoz. "We ask for your understanding. We don't want to plunge into chaos and anarchy."

Earlier this week some of the biggest protests in decades struck the Peruvian capital. Dozens were injured in clashes between protesters and security forces. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to tame the riots, and human rights groups said their use of violence was excessive.

"Given the situation, young people cannot be indifferent, we must demand respect," said Sonia Julca, an economist from Callao University. "People are against this Merino-led government."

Merino, a member of the center-right Popular Action Party who had chaired Congress, swiftly swore in a new cabinet this week after Vizcarra was removed Monday. He has called for calm and promised to stick to a plan for the April presidential election.

Vizcarra, a politically unrelated centrist popular with Peruvians, oversaw an anti-transplant campaign that led to frequent clashes with Congress in a country that has historically experienced political upheaval and corruption.

The former president has yet to be found guilty of the corruption allegations made against him during the hearing prior to his overthrow.

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