Street protests 'paralyse' Peru
By Dan Collyns | BBC News, Lima

The protesting teachers object to a new proficiency test law

Nationwide protests and a general strike have brought Peru to a near standstill over the last week.

Thousands of people in every major town and city took to the streets, and three people are reported to have been killed in clashes around the country.

The protests are widely seen as a show of disapproval with the government of President Alan Garcia.

They come just a fortnight before President Garcia completes his first year in office.

Mass arrests

In a country where street protests are something of a national pastime, this last week has vastly exceeded expectations.

In the biggest demonstration since Mr Garcia became Peru's president, there was a national show of discontent with his government.

It began as a national strike by the left-wing Peruvian education workers' union. But as construction workers, farmers and miners joined, it grew in size and became more widespread.

There have been running battles with the police in the centre of Lima, and the authorities have detained more than 100 union leaders.

In the southern region of Puno, protestors stormed an airport and a railway station, and three people have been killed in different clashes across the country.

On Friday, a tourist train on its way to Machu Picchu was pelted with stones, and in Peru's second city, Arequipa, striking teachers tried to throw eggs and tomatoes at President Garcia and clashed with his supporters.

Several police officers were held hostage by angry demonstrators in the same city but later released.

'Left-wing radicals'

The protesting teachers object to a new law which obliges them to take a proficiency test and says they will be sacked if they repeatedly fail it.

The test is part of the government's attempt to reform the appalling standard of Peru's state education.

But union leaders say it will mean hundreds of arbitrary sackings.

President Garcia appears to have inflamed the protests by launching insults at union leaders and dismissing them as left-wing radicals.

But the opposition leader, Ollanta Humala, and several MPs have also joined the demonstrations.

They accuse Mr Garcia of reneging on his campaign pledges and say social development and working conditions have not improved, despite Peru's booming economic growth.

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