LIMA - At least 13 people suffocated in a crush during a raid on a nightclub in Peru's capital where a party was being held despite a coronavirus ban on such gatherings, police said.
Latin America has been badly hit by the pandemic, and this month Peru reimposed stricter restrictions on movement.
The illegal birthday party on Saturday was organized on social media and drew a crowd of around 120 at the Thomas Restobar, the interior ministry said in a statement confirming the 13 deaths.
"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.
However, some who were at the party and others living near the nightclub in Lima's Los Olivos district 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 radio.
Six people, including three police officers, were injured, the interior ministry said.
Local media reported that the victims were in their 20s.
Women's Minister Rosario Sasieta said she was outraged.
"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.
The interior ministry said 23 people had been detained and that authorities are trying to identify the organizers and the owners of the premises.
Peru, with a population of 33 million, has recorded more than half a million coronavirus cases and over 27,000 fatalities.
This month the country re-imposed a curfew on Sundays 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.