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Puerto Ricans try to forge movement to oust governor

Associated Press logo Associated Press 7/18/2019 By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN, Associated Press
Police arrest a demonstrator during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands for Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti) © Provided by The Associated Press Police arrest a demonstrator during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands for Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Cruise passengers drifted through the streets of Old San Juan Thursday as shop owners took plywood down from store windows and painted over graffiti demanding Gov. Ricardo Rosselló resign.

On a colonial plaza behind the governor's mansion, a small group of men and women laid out the shoes of people who died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, each decorated with a blue flower.

The shoes were first laid out on the steps of the U.S. territory's capitol last year as a protest against government refusal to acknowledge the premature deaths of thousands of people due to the damage wrought by the September 2017 storm. On Thursday, less than 12 hours after the island's largest public protest in years, the shoes became part of a far-flung effort to forge a sustainable protest movement to turn Rosselló out of office.

Police walk blocking a street under the gas during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands for Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo /Carlos Giusti) © Provided by The Associated Press Police walk blocking a street under the gas during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands for Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo /Carlos Giusti)

The spark was the leak of hundreds of pages of online chats of the governor and his aides slinging vulgar jokes and insults about women, gays and even the dead from Hurricane Maria. But the kindling for this week's two large protests against Rosselló, participants say, was years of mismanagement, corruption and cutbacks, including the closure of hundreds of schools and the collapse of the electric grid after Maria.

Demonstrators arrive on motorcycles during clashes, demanding the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rossello, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Thursday, July 18, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence on Wednesday chanting demands for Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo/Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo) © Provided by The Associated Press Demonstrators arrive on motorcycles during clashes, demanding the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rossello, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Thursday, July 18, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence on Wednesday chanting demands for Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo/Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo)

"Rosselló represents something, a corrupt system. A system that laughs at the living, that laughs at the dead," said Kique Cubera Garcia, a 41-year-old documentary maker who was helping lay out shoes. "Ricardo Rosselló is the straw that broke the camel's back. We're going to throw him out."

Despite that assurance from Cubera and many other furious Puerto Ricans, it remained far from certain that the anti-Rosselló forces would be able to forge a strong and long-lasting movement able to force the 40-year-old governor from power. Rosselló's pro-statehood party holds both houses of the territory's legislature and officials have said they do not intend to start impeachment proceedings for now.

A demonstrator with a Puerto Rican flag stands in front of the police during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands for Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo /Carlos Giusti) © Provided by The Associated Press A demonstrator with a Puerto Rican flag stands in front of the police during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands for Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo /Carlos Giusti)

"I'm committed, more strongly than ever, to move ahead with the public policies that we've worked for so hard in all areas of the government," Rosselló said in a written statement Thursday morning. "I strongly believe that it's possible to restore confidence and that we'll be able to reconcile after this painful and sad process."

Demonstrators with a flag of Puerto Rico are under the tear gas thrown by the police during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands for Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo / Carlos Giusti) © Provided by The Associated Press Demonstrators with a flag of Puerto Rico are under the tear gas thrown by the police during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands for Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo / Carlos Giusti)

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump weighed in on the upheaval in Puerto Rico, tweeted harsh words for the territory's leadership a day after tens of thousands protested against the governor. Trump focused more on one of Rosselló's main antagonists than the governor himself, however.

"A lot of bad things are happening in Puerto Rico," Trump tweeted, adding that "The Governor is under siege" and deriding San Juan Mayor Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a frequent critic of both the president and Rosselló, as "a despicable and incompetent person who I wouldn't trust under any circumstance."

He alleged that much of relief funding approved by Congress after 2017's devastating Hurricane Maria "was squandered away or wasted, never to be seen again," and said "much of (Puerto Rico's) leadership is corrupt, & robbing the U.S. Government blind!"

The U.S. island is struggling to emerge from a debt-driven financial failure and a recession that's over a decade old. It also seeks more federal aid to recover from Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico's electrical grid and from a months-long failure to provide care to the elderly and medically vulnerable.

A demonstrator stands on the roof of a building during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands for Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo /Carlos Giusti) © Provided by The Associated Press A demonstrator stands on the roof of a building during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands for Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo /Carlos Giusti)

Some of Puerto Rico's best-known celebrities — performers Ricky Martin, Residente and Bad Bunny — joined Wednesday's march through San Juan, the capital, some waving Puerto Rican flags printed in black and gray instead of the usual red, white and blue to express their discontent.

Prominent Puerto Ricans on the U.S. mainland such as Lin-Manuel Miranda of "Hamilton" fame and Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora joined the chorus of voices calling call for resignation.

Smaller protests have taken place around the island, with some Puerto Ricans taking down portraits of Rosselló from government offices.

"The country is starting to make its voice heard in new ways," said artists Gloribel Delgado Esquilin, who was helping lay shoes on the Old San Juan plaza. "There's no way of predicting what's going to happen here."

There were more menacing signs of unrest, as well: Puerto Rico's police department said dozens of pistols and rifles were stolen from a police station in the town of Guayama Wednesday night.

Police Commissioner Henry Escalera Rivera said officers found that a storage room lock was forced 30 pistols, 18 rifles, and 4,000 rounds of ammunition were taken.

Escalera said a message threatening Gov. Ricardo Rosselló was found on a wall of the storage room.

The island's largest public employees' unions called for a third march on Friday evening from Old San Juan's cruise-ship piers to the governor's residence, saying they, too, are a confident that a new governor is only a matter of time.

A demonstrator throws stones at the police during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands for Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti) © Provided by The Associated Press A demonstrator throws stones at the police during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands for Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

"He will have to leave because the protests will just keep growing," said Angel Figueroa Jaramilla, head of the union representing many of the employees of the island's public power authority. Rosselló has proposed privatizing the authority, which collapsed in the storm due to decades of poor maintenance and neglect.

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Associated Press writer Peter Orsi contributed from Mexico City.

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A demonstrator affected by tear gas thrown by the police runs during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands for Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti) © Provided by The Associated Press A demonstrator affected by tear gas thrown by the police runs during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands for Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein

A protester reacts during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands for Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo/Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo) © Provided by The Associated Press A protester reacts during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands for Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo/Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo) A demonstrator reacts in front of the police during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands for Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo/Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo) © Provided by The Associated Press A demonstrator reacts in front of the police during clashes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Thousands of people marched to the governor's residence in San Juan on Wednesday chanting demands for Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign after the leak of online chats that show him making misogynistic slurs and mocking his constituents. (AP Photo/Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo)
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