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Homemade gas masks: A new Peruvian trend

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LIMA, Peru — Recycling plastic bottles is the newest rage in this Andean capital — not to protect the environment, but to protect against choking tear gas.

Riot police have shown little hesitation to use noxious gas to disperse frequent protests, large and small, since President Alberto Fujimori claimed a third term victory May 28 in an election marred by irregularities and fraud allegations.

This week, street vendors in the capital's historic center started selling homemade gas masks fashioned from bottles, tape and vinegar-soaked cushioning from old mattresses. The cost: the equivalent of about 30 cents.

"It's a sign of the times," said political scientist Fernando Rospigliosi. "It's been a long time since we've seen such forceful protests in Lima and such a willingness by the police to respond by lobbing gas."

Opposition newspapers La Republica and Liberacion reported Friday that police have stockpiled seven different types of tear gas in preparation for a massive three-day protest planned for next week to disrupt Fujimori's July 28 inauguration.

Alejandro Toledo, the opposition candidate who boycotted the runoff vote, alleging Fujimori was planning to rig the result, had originally called for 4 million people to take part in the demonstrations.

But march organizers say they now hope to see about 100,000 people converge on the city from Peru's Andes, northern and southern coast and Amazon jungle, to augment some 200,000 protesters from inside the capital city.

Fujimori has said he will not declare a state of emergency or curfew to thwart the marchs.

"What I can say is the police will guarantee internal security so long as the marches are conducted in a peaceful manner, without affecting private property," Fujimori told reporters Friday.