BOGOTA, Colombia — Lawmaker Francisco Sagasti was on Tuesday sworn in as Peru's president, becoming the country's third head of state in just over a week.

Speaking after the ceremony, the 76-year-old, center-right politician apologized to Inti Sotelo and Brian Pintado, two young people who were killed during protests last week.

"In the name of the state I apologize to the family members, to them and all the young people who marched to defend democracy," he said.

The South American country was plunged into political chaos last Monday when President Martin Vizcarra was impeached for corruption and replaced by interim president Manuel Merino.

Merino resigned on Sunday, just five days after his appointment, following violent protests against the ouster of his predecessor in which Sotelo and Pintado were killed and dozens injured.

Sagasti was then elected president of Congress on Monday, opening the way for him to become a caretaker president.

He will lead the country until a new government takes office after elections scheduled for April. Lawmaker Mirtha Vasquez was due to succeed him as speaker of parliament.

Sagasti has pledged to appoint a "plural" cabinet with "the widest possible spectrum," which could include members of Vizcarra's government.

He said his priorities will include transparent elections, the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and the recovery of the economy.

The former engineer, who was first elected to parliament this year, faces an uphill task to convince Peruvians of the trustworthiness of lawmakers, around half of whom are currently being investigated for alleged involvement in different crimes.

Sagasti has previously held positions at the United Nations, the World Bank and the Organization of American States (OAS) and was among the hostages when the MRTA guerilla organization seized the residence of the Japanese ambassador to Lima for months in December 1996.

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro tweeted that he trusted Sagasti's "capacity to lead the country through this crisis and until the next presidential and legislative elections."

Vizcarra was removed from office in a vote of no-confidence in Congress, after he was accused of taking 2.3 million soles ($628,000) in bribes from a construction company during his time as governor of the Moquegua region from 2011 to 2014. He denied the allegations.

He had butted heads with parliament many times during his tenure, accusing lawmakers of seeking to impede his anti-corruption drive.

Sagasti will be Peru's fourth president in about three years, after Merino, Vizcarra and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who stepped down in 2018 following corruption allegations.

The country has been plagued by graft scandals on the highest level. Former President Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) is awaiting extradition from the United States; his successor Alan Garcia committed suicide when police came to arrest him; and Garcia's successor Ollanta Humala (2011-2016) is also under investigation for corruption.

The political crisis has hit Peru at a particularly difficult time.

The country has one of the highest coronavirus fatality rates, and the International Monetary Fund estimates that its gross domestic product will shrink by 13.9% this year.


(c)2020 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany)

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PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194): Peru

Copyright 2020 Tribune Content Agency.

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