March 23, 2018 / 3:08 PM / a year ago

Scandal-weary Peruvians welcome incoming president Vizcarra

LIMA, March 23 (Reuters) - Peru First Vice President and ambassador to Canada Martin Vizcarra called for "faith and optimism" upon arriving at Lima's airport before dawn on Friday, ahead of being sworn in as president to replace outgoing Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who resigned over graft allegations.

Crowds of cheering supporters greeted Vizcarra when he landed on a commercial flight from Toronto.

"Faith and optimism!" a smiling Vizcarra said before hoisting up a red-and-white jersey of Peru's soccer team given to him by a supporter. "Peru can always overcome."

Vizcarra is expected to be sworn in at around midday, taking the reins of a nation that has been rocked by a sprawling corruption scandal involving Brazilian builder Odebrecht and a bitter feud between Kuczynski and the opposition-run Congress.

In a sign of the lingering political hostilities, Kuczynski threatened to upend Vizcarra's planned swearing-in ceremony after opposition lawmakers proposed a resolution to accept his resignation while also declaring they were impeaching him for being a "traitor."

"If it remains that way, I'll withdraw my (resignation) letter and submit myself to a proper impeachment process where I can exercise my defense," Kuczynski said on Twitter.

It was unclear if Kuczynski could legally withdraw his resignation.

The president of Congress, Luis Galarreta, said the resolution was only a draft.

Vizcarra, who turned 55 on Thursday and will be tasked with governing Peru through 2021, will have to repair relations with Congress while also restoring trust in the country's institutions after the Odebrecht scandal tainted most of Peru's political class.

The company once had an outsized presence in Peru's construction sector and admitted in late 2016 that it had bribed officials in Peru over a period spanning three presidencies.

Thousands of protesters and several leftist leaders marched in downtown Lima hours before Vizcarra arrived, demanding early elections and chanting "out with them all!" The demonstrations ended with police firing tear gas at protesters.

A former governor of a small mining region, Vizcarra is widely expected to continue the free market policies that have been in place for decades in Peru, the world's No. 2 copper producer and one of Latin America's most stable economies.

But he has yet to speak about what his government would look like, or what he thinks about the graft allegations that ensnared Kuczynski.

Kuczynski, a former Wall Street banker who took office less than two years ago, has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and has blamed his fall on a campaign to malign him by the opposition party led by his campaign rival, twice-defeated presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori.

Sources close to Vizcarra told Reuters on Thursday that he plans to replace the country's prime minister, one of Kuczynski's most vocal cheerleaders, in a bid to form a consensus government with input from a broad representation of political groups and institutions.

Vizcarra is expected to deliver a speech before Congress after he takes office. (Reporting By Marco Aquino and Mitra Taj; Editing by David Gregorio)

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