13 die in stampede as police raid Peru nightclub over virus violations
At least 13 young people suffocated in a crush during a raid on a nightclub in Peru's capital, where a party was being held in violation of a coronavirus ban on large gatherings, police and press reports said.
"After a police operation in a discotheque in the Los Olivos neighbourhood, 13 people have died," Peruvian police chief General Orlando Velasco told RPP radio.
Twenty-three people were arrested for taking part in what health officials said could be a mass-spreader event; 15 of them later tested positive for the coronavirus, police said.
Latin America has been badly hit by the pandemic, and Peruvian officials this month reimposed stricter curbs on movement and large gatherings.
Peru is the third-hardest-hit country in the region -- after Brazil and Mexico -- registering 27,453 deaths from the virus since March.
- Police tactics disputed -
The illegal birthday party on Saturday was organized on social media and drew a crowd of around 120, most of them in their 20s or 30s, to a licensed nightclub called the Thomas Restobar, the interior ministry said in a statement.
"Faced with the police operation, which did not use any type of weapon or tear gas, those attending the party tried to escape through the single exit, trampling each other and getting trapped in the stairway," the ministry said.
The police action, an hour before a nighttime curfew was to take effect, was triggered when neighbours called police to complain about the illegal gathering.
However, some who were at the party or who live near the nightclub disputed the ministry's version of events.
"It appears that police entered and threw tear gas canisters at them, and boxed them in," one local resident told RPP.
- No money for a burial -
The dead included 12 women and one man, according to Women's Minister Rosario Sasieta, who travelled to the scene before visiting with survivors in a hospital.
"It should never have happened. We are in a pandemic, in a health emergency. I am calling for the maximum punishment possible for the nightclub owners," she told RPP.
Peruvian law calls for fines of about $110 and potential jail sentences for those who violate the virus-related restrictions.
Family members travelled to the Lima morgue to identify their loved ones.
"I found out that my daughter died, asphyxiated, this morning," Gregoria Velasquez, mother of 26-year-old Maryori Salcedo Velasquez, told the America Television channel. "I don't have money to bury her."
Another devastated young woman, who did not give her name, told reporters: "If I'm still alive, God knows why. My partner who was with me died in my arms."
Six people, including three police officers and three civilians, were injured, the interior ministry said.
It said authorities are trying to identify the party organizers and the owners of the club.
Witnesses said the incident began when police officers entered the club and ordered women to leave first.
Panic ensued when several men, fearing arrest, rushed toward a lone exit door, trampling several women blocked near the exit.
Peru, with a population of 33 million, has recorded 585,000 coronavirus cases. This month the country reimposed a Sunday curfew in response to the rising number of infections.
A nighttime curfew has been in place since March 16 while the borders are closed and school classes have been suspended for the rest of the year.