Peru inflation protests grip tourist capital Cuzco, gateway to Machu Picchu

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FILE PHOTO: Tourists visit the main plaza in Cuzco
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By Alessandro Cinque

CUZCO, Peru (Reuters) - Peruvians were protesting rapidly rising prices in the Andean city of Cuzco on Tuesday, in spite of a truce agreement that will see embattled President Pedro Castillo travel to the city later in the week to try to find ways to reduce costs.

Peru is battling its highest inflation in over two decades, amid a worldwide price surge most recently triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Rising prices of essential food items due to reduced supply of fertilizer and fuel has disproportionately affected poor residents in Peru and other emerging economies, rattling governments.

The protests are the latest wave of unrest in Peru after mass demonstration began in late March, initially due to rising fuel prices.

In Cuzco - an Andean city once founded by the Incas that is now the gateway to the ruins of Machu Picchu and the tourist capital of Peru - worker unions began a strike on Monday, shutting down transportation services and blocking roads around the region. Hundreds of foreign tourists have been stranded.

Protesters are demanding that Castillo lower water, electricity and gas prices, as well as rewrite the country's market-friendly constitution.

Augusto Idme, secretary of the Cuzco teachers union and one of the organizers of the protest, said people were protesting in spite of the recent truce deal to make sure the government kept to its word.

"They've always taken us for a ride," he said.

The government has agreed to install working groups to find solutions but offered no clear concessions yet.

Nationally, Peru has waived taxes on fuel and essential food items in a bid to lower prices and also raised the minimum wage.

But the rising inflation has taken a toll on Castillo's already waning popularity, hitting a record low 19% approval rating in an Ipsos poll earlier this month.

In less than a year in office, Castillo has already survived two impeachment attempts and presided over unprecedented turnover of senior officials. He has had four prime ministers and four separate cabinets.

(Reporting by Alessandro Cinque in Cuzco, Peru; Editing by Marcelo Rochabrun and Marguerita Choy)

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