July 19, 2005

Peruvians march to protest government corruption

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - Thousands of Peruvians, many wearing
white clothes and gloves to signify their hands are clean,
marched on Tuesday to call for an end to public graft in one of
the biggest protests of President Alejandro Toledo's unpopular

"We must combat this virus that grows in people's hearts
and fills their pockets. It's every Peruvian's obligation,"
protest organizer Luis Bambaren, a retired bishop, told a crowd
at Peru's main court, which critics call the "Palace of

Toledo, who has a year to go in office, has been beset by
scandals during his four years in power and is accused of
faking signatures to register his party for the 2000 elections.

There were no official estimates on the size of the
protest, but reporters at the scene said about 4,000 people
participated in the event, which was peaceful.

Dozens of people wore huge masks of Toledo and ex-President
Alberto Fujimori, whom the government has been unable to
extradite since he fled to Japan at the height of a corruption
scandal in 2000.

Fujimori, who makes regular radio broadcasts from Tokyo,
denies any wrongdoing and says he plans to run for president in
April's elections.

A new Apoyo poll showed that 56 percent of Lima residents
see corruption as the most serious problem in Peruvian politics
and say they are tired of the impunity in which politicians

One protester dressed as a clown said: "The justice system
clowns around and laughs at Peruvians in their faces."

Nineteen of Toledo's relatives are being investigated for
corruption, while a former aide is in prison accused of bribing
judges. Seven of Toledo's ministers have quit over
influence-peddling scandals.

Despite Toledo's pledge to "go to war" on corruption,
several of those accused of Fujimori-era graft have been freed
for a lack of evidence or because the courts never agreed on a

Last week, a court lifted the house arrest of Telemundo TV
presenter Laura Bozzo -- accused of receiving $3 million from
Fujimori's jailed spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos -- because
judges kept her under arrest for three years without handing
down a sentence.

Of the 73 people on trial for corruption in Peru, 50 are
under house arrest and Peruvians fear they too will be freed.