Marchers demand the resignation of President Dina Boluarte in the streets of Ayacucho on December 17, 2022

Cusco (Peru) (AFP) - Protests dwindled in intensity in Peru on Saturday and thousands of tourists trapped in the interior boarded planes to escape unrest as President Dina Boluarte again vowed that she would not step down.

Some 4,500 tourists, many of them European and North American, rushed to the international airport in Cusco to catch flights after being stranded much of the week by simmering political unrest.

“By Sunday at the latest, all the stranded tourists will leave,” Tourism and Commerce Minister Luis Fernando Helguero told the Andina state news agency.

The state human rights ombudsman reported 70 roadblocks around the South American nation, and the toll from the unrest rose to 19 dead and 569 injured.

But the minister of defense and the head of the armed forces both said protests were diminishing in intensity.

A street vendor sits on a sidewalk in Lima next to graffiti reading 'Dina Out' and '15 Dead'

“We have gradually been recovering normality along the roads, at the airports, in the cities. Normality is returning but it is not yet achieved,” said General Manuel Gomez de la Torre, head of the military joint chiefs of staff.

Defense Minister Alberto Otarola cautioned that “organized violent acts” were aimed at damaging airports, highways, natural gas pipelines and hydroelectric installations.

“The trend is downward. But we remain on alert. The situation of violence hasn’t passed and the crisis goes on,” Otarola said.

- ‘What is solved by my resignation?’

Protesters march in the city of Ayacucho in the south central part of Peru

Boluarte, the lawyer who assumed the reins of the country December 7 after leftist President Pedro Castillo tried to dissolve Congress and rule by decree, only to be ousted and thrown in jail, again insisted that she would not bend to protesters and step down.

“What is solved by my resignation? We will be here, firmly, until Congress determines to bring forward the elections,” Boluarte told Peruvians.

On Friday, House speaker Jose Williams said the vote on the election schedule could be revisited during a forthcoming session of Congress.

Peruvian President Dina Boluarte said she would not resign, as she demanded Congress bring forward general elections to calm unrest, a move lawmakers have already rejected

In her televised address, Boluarte expressed regret for the protests that swelled across the country and the deaths, most of which came in clashes with security forces including the military, under a state of emergency.

If armed troops were on the streets, “it has been to take care of and protect” Peru’s citizens, Boluarte said, adding that the protests were “overflowing” with violent elements that were coordinated and not spontaneous.

“These groups did not emerge overnight. They had tactically organized to block roads,” she said.

Protesters are calling for the release of Castillo, the resignation of Boluarte and closure of Congress, and immediate general elections.

Initially detained for seven days, Castillo was on Thursday ordered to spend 18 months in pretrial detention.

Stranded tourists who were visiting the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu await transportation to Cusco after being evacuated by train to Ollantaytambo, Peru, on December 17, 2022

The leftist former schoolteacher stands accused of rebellion and conspiracy, and could be jailed for up to 10 years if found guilty, according to public prosecutor Alcides Diaz.

Boluarte declared a 30-day nationwide state of emergency and said she wanted to bring forward elections as a way to calm the uproar, but Friday’s measure fell short of passage in Congress.

- Tourists in limbo -

Several airports have been closed, but the international terminal in Cusco, the gateway city to the jewel of Peruvian tourism, the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, managed to reopen on Friday, allowing for some 4,500 stranded tourists to begin boarding outbound flights.

Cusco’s airport is the third largest in Peru, and armed soldiers were seen Saturday standing guard outside.

Protesters tried to storm the terminal on Monday, and the airport remained closed for nearly four days.

Good news also came Saturday to some 200 tourists stranded in a town in the deep valley below Machu Picchu. They were able to board a train and travel as far as Piscacucho, where a boulder blocked the railway.

Stranded tourists walk along a rail line near Ollantaytambo, Peru, seeking a way out of unrest

The tourists, many from Europe and North America, then walked two kilometers (a little more than a mile) to where waiting vehicles took them on to Cusco, AFP learned.

Rail service to Machu Picchu had been suspended since Tuesday.

- ‘Criminal investigation’ needed -

Some of the greatest bloodshed of the week occurred Thursday at the airport in Ayacucho, where soldiers protecting the terminal shot at protesters.

Soldiers “found themselves surrounded with the masses closing in,” rights ombudsman Eliana Revollar told AFP.

Soldiers have been deployed due to the state of emergency

The army says its soldiers would have first raised their weapons and then fired into the air, but Revollar said shots were fired at protesters and an investigation is warranted.