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Lima - President Ollanta Humala has begun sounding out replacements for his prime minister as part of an expected Cabinet shuffle designed to calm a wave of violent anti-mining protests, a politician who declined the job said on Tuesday.
Martin Vizcarra, president of the southern region of Moquegua, told Reuters he was offered the post after meeting with Humala on Monday but that he doesn't plan to accept it.
“The offer is flattering but I'm going to stay in my current job,” Vizcarra said. He did not name other politicians under consideration by Humala's office for the prime minister's position.
The office of Prime Minister Oscar Valdes was not available for comment. But a government official who declined to be identified said Valdes would leave in a matter of days.
Critics have blamed Valdes for a crackdown on protesters against Newmont Mining's $5 billion Conga project in the northern region of Cajamarca that killed five people this month.
Prominent members of Congress have called for Valdes to step down and say the government should emphasize mediation instead of force to solve environmental disputes.
Vizcarra was part of a negotiation team that resolved disputes over water and forged community backing last week for Anglo American's $3 billion Quellaveco copper mine.
Construction on the Quellaveco mine in the world's No. 2 copper producer is likely to start this year and would allow Humala to claim a victory after failing to curb eight months of protests against the Conga project.
Peruvian leaders often shuffle their Cabinets on July 28, Peruvian Independence Day, which also will mark the anniversary of Humala's first year in office.
Humala replaced half of his Cabinet in December, when he promoted Valdes from interior minister to prime minister to reflect a less tolerant approach to protests. Both Humala and Valdes are former military officers.
Bringing in a fresh face to lead his Cabinet could help Humala get back to the policies he promised upon taking office, specifically social inclusion and mediation, a former official said.
“This requires an enormous capacity to build consensus and dialogue ... the damage caused by the prime minister has affected the entire Cabinet and I believe an outsider is needed,” said Jose De Echave, who resigned as vice environment minister last year over the government's handling of the Conga conflict.
Humala's approval rating has hit a new low of 40 percent, a poll showed on Sunday, as he struggles to avert anti-mining violence in rural provinces that say they have been left behind by Peru's decade-long economic boom. - Reuters