Page last updated at 07:19 GMT, Thursday, 10 July 2008 08:19 UK

Anti-government protests hit Peru

Construction workers march in Lima, 09/07
Protest leaders called for more investment in health and education

Thousands of people have joined marches and strikes across Peru in protest at rising prices and the government's free-market policies.

They say the government has not spread the wealth from an economic boom.

Strikers gathered in a main square in the capital, Lima, waving red flags and accusing President Alan Garcia of being a traitor to his socialist roots.

Transport was disrupted but the protests were largely peaceful. Police say they arrested about 200 people.

The protesters say the president's free market policies are benefiting only the business sector and multinational companies, leaving the poor behind.

They complain that Peru is enjoying one of the world's highest growth rates, which ran at about 9% last year and is forecast to be around 8% this year, but pay remains low and the cost of living keeps rising.

Mario Huaman, the leader of the trade union federation which organised the strike, said it was a success - with people from textiles workers to retired policemen turning out to protest.

"This is a government of the rich and the transnational companies," he said.

Mr Huaman said growth should "benefit the majority of the population" and that wealth should be better distributed to improve investment in health, education and security.

Mining sector

The government said fewer than one in 10 workers joined the strike.

"The population has shown that it didn't have... the will to leave the country paralysed," President Garcia said in a televised address.

But in a rare move, Mr Garcia said he acknowledged there was dissatisfaction in a large section of Peruvian society and saluted those who protested peacefully.

Peru's mining sector is capitalising on high metals prices, driven by demand from China and India.

But the export-based economy largely benefits the main cities on the coast while in the Andean and Amazon interior most people still live in poverty.


Scenes from the protests in Peru

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