By Marco Aquino
LIMA (Reuters) - Allies of Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra pledged on Saturday to fight an attempt by Congress to impeach him and accused a congressional official of trying to involve the military in the effort as political tensions spiked in the Andean nation.
Congress voted on Friday to pursue impeachment proceedings against Vizcarra, plunging the Andean country into political crisis even as the major copper producer battles an economic slump and coronavirus outbreak with one of the highest mortality rates in the world.
Prime Minister Walter Martos, flanked by senior commanders from the country's Army, Navy and Air Force, said the government would use all legal means, including a lawsuit in the Constitutional Court to stop the impeachment process.
The leader of Congress, Manuel Merino, acknowledged at a news conference he had contacted military commanders but denied that he was seeking any sort of military support for impeachment, as Defense Minister Jorge Luis Chavez accused.
"The attitude of the Congress leader has been reckless in attempting to involve the armed forces in a political process," said Chávez, a retired general, adding the general commanders all remained "absolutely on the sidelines".
Minister of Justice Ana Neyra said that the bid to oust Vizcarra was affecting the ability of the executive branch to operate properly and "undermining the constitutional order."
The prosecutor's office separately said on Saturday police raided eight homes of former government employees and associates in connection with allegations of hiring abuses at the heart of the impeachment case against Vizcarra.
The prosecutor said the raids included the home of Richard Cisneros, a little-known singer who goes by the name Richard Swing, as well as two officials close to Vizcarra.
Cisneros was awarded government contracts worth around $49,500 for motivational talks, which some lawmakers allege resulted from Vizcarra's influence.
Peru's Congress has summoned Vizcarra to make his defense on Friday. The president, who has no party representation in the legislature but remains popular with voters, has rejected the accusations and accuses parliament of plotting against him.
The abrupt move to oust Vizcarra would need the support of 87 votes from the 130 legislators. The motion to start the impeachment process, citing "moral incapacity," passed with 65 votes in favor and 36 against.
Vizcarra assumed the presidency in March 2018 after the resignation of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski amid allegations in Congress of irregularities.
In September 2019, Vizcarra dissolved Congress over a dispute with the opposition on anti-corruption reforms, and in January a fragmented parliament was elected to complete the legislative term until July 2021.
If Vizcarra is removed from office, Merino would assume the presidency under Peru's constitution. The vice presidency is currently vacant after a resignation.
Vizcarra had already called presidential and legislative elections for April 10 and has said that he will not run.
(Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Cynthia Osterman)