Peru to vote on presidential ouster as bid seems to lose strength


By Marco Aquino

LIMA, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Peru's Congress is set to vote on Friday over whether to oust President Martín Vizcarra after impeachment proceedings were launched last week, a bid that has roiled the copper-producing country but has appeared to lose steam in recent days.

Vizcarra, or a lawyer on his behalf, will mount a defense to lawmakers after they voted to impeach the centrist leader on grounds of "moral incapacity" over alleged links to an case of irregular government contracts with a little-known singer.

However, despite simmering anger in the Andean country, which is facing a sharp economic contraction and one of the world's most severe coronavirus outbreaks, the bid to oust him has faltered with key opposition lawmakers rejecting the plan.

The opposition-dominated Congress must gather at least 87 votes out of 130 lawmakers to remove 57-year-old Vizcarra, who does not have his own party representation in the legislature. A vote to start impeachment proceedings gained 65 votes.

"Let's not get distracted by secondary, banal things. Peru has so many problems to be distracted by sterile discussions," Vizcarra told state television at an event on Thursday.

If Vizcarra were ousted, the presidency would be assumed by the head of Congress, Manuel Merino.

Vizcarra has claimed that the move is a plot by Congress, which was elected in January after the president dissolved the previous parliament last year in the middle of a fight with the opposition over his anti-corruption reforms.

A recent Ipsos poll showed that 79% of Peruvians would prefer Vizcarra to fulfill his mandate, which runs until elections in April next year, in which he is not running.

Peru, the world's second largest copper producer, has a history of political turmoil, with three attempts to impeach a sitting president in the last five years.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino in Lima; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Steve Orlofsky)

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