Ousted Peruvian President Castillo calls his detention 'political revenge'

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By Marco Aquino

LIMA (Reuters) - Former Peruvian President Pedro Castillo, who is being held for 18 months in pre-trial detention after attempting to illegally dissolve Congress, said on Wednesday he was a victim of "political revenge" by his adversaries.

Castillo, speaking at a hearing to appeal the detention, said he had not committed the crimes of rebellion and conspiracy for which he is under investigation.

"This unjust pre-trial detention... has only served to polarize our country," an unshaven Castillo said to the appeals court in a video stream. "This whole process is nothing more than political revenge."

The former president is being held in a small prison on a police base in a district east of capital city Lima. Elected in 2019, he was detained on Dec. 7 after attempting to close down the legislature by decree to avoid an impeachment trial. The vote went ahead and Castillo was ousted and promptly arrested.

Dina Boluarte, who served as vice president under Castillo, was sworn in as the new president the same day.

Castillo's ouster and detention sparked a wave of protests by his supporters and those unhappy with the new government throughout the country, which according to government data have left at least 22 dead.

"I have never committed a crime of rebellion, I have not taken up arms, nor have I called anyone to take up arms," Castillo said. "The one who rose up in arms to end the lives of more than 30 Peruvians is the current government, leaving more than 20 missing and more than 200 wounded."

Boluarte's government announced a state of emergency nearly two weeks ago, granting security forces special powers and limiting freedoms such as the right to assembly.

Human rights groups have accused authorities of using firearms on protesters and dropping smoke bombs from helicopters. The army says protesters have used weapons and homemade explosives.

A Reuters investigation found several cases of people who were shot dead in the residential streets of Ayacucho after the military moved into the region to wrest back control.

The judge presiding over the hearing said the court will now discuss Castillo's appeal.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Kylie Madry; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)