Peruvian church leaders called for more tolerance and greater national unity as widespread, violent protests dogged the government of President Alejandro Toledo, and support for the president plummeted to a record low.

"We must seek dialogue and unity in order to resolve our problems and ensure a dignified life for all Peruvians," Victor Arroyo, executive director of the National Council of Evangelicals (CONEP), told Ecumenical News International.

His views were echoed by Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, the Catholic archbishop of Lima. "Circumstances require that we seek unity," the archbishop said. "If we do not love Peru, who will?"

A poll taken in Lima on June 21 by the Datum company showed that 82.6 percent of those surveyed disapprove of President Toledo, who took office at the end of July last year.

The president's support is even lower outside the capital, where people have taken to the streets, blocking highways and destroying public and private property, decrying both a lack of jobs and the government's plans to privatize two state-owned power companies.

In recent weeks, protests have spread from the jungle city of Iquitos in the north to Tacna in the south. Since mid-May, two national strikes have brought major urban centers to a virtual standstill.

Arequipa, the nation's second biggest city, became the scene of violent demonstrations in mid-June after the government, ignoring widespread opposition, announced it was privatizing two electricity generating companies serving southern Peru.

Two people were killed, hundreds were injured and at least $30 million worth of property was damaged. The government declared a state of emergency, imposed a curfew and dispatched 1,700 anti-riot police and soldiers to Arequipa.

The situation ...

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