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LIMA (Reuters) - First a mural in downtown Lima that depicted indigenous Peruvian revolutionary Tupac Katari was painted over. Then one of a boy stacking bricks on top of books suffered the same fate.
Lima's arts community was incensed. And suspicious: The yellow paint covering the works evoked the hallmark color of the new mayor's political party.
On Wednesday, after a third mural turned yellow, Mayor Luis Castaneda confirmed his government was behind the effort, literally covering up the traces of a predecessor who had welcomed the pieces.
"They don't go with the historic center," Castaneda said in a televised news briefing on Wednesday, shrugging off criticism.
The now-deleted murals were painted in Lima's gritty downtown district during the 2011-2014 term of former Mayor Susana Villaran, Castaneda's archrival, whose government helped secure permits.
The dispute has touched a nerve in Lima, where an emerging arts scene often struggles for space as rents rise in the fast-growing city of 10 million.
Castaneda, a conservative and populist leader, said erasing the artwork was merely part of his government's bid to revamp the historic center.
But that plan might now backfire, said 36-year-old designer and arts advocate Elliot Urcuhuaranga.
"It's an invitation for taggers and graffiti artists to cover downtown Lima in paint," Urcuhuaranga said. "That's what they're going to do."
The controversy has already inspired a slew of memes and caricatures online. One depicts the Mona Lisa covered in yellow paint.
Castaneda said his government would paint over more murals, including one he said was linked to the political arm of the nearly defunct Shining Path insurgency.
Castaneda beat Villaran by a landslide in municipal elections last year after branding the center-left politician as elitist and out-of-touch.
Villaran had emphasized expanding cultural programs and cracking down on Lima's unruly transportation sector, plans she says Castaneda is working to reverse.
Also mayor from 2003 to 2010, Castaneda has said he wants to use his new term to resume the kind of public works projects that he said Villaran abandoned.
Lima, a nearly 500-year-old city founded by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro on the Pacific coast, is the traffic-choked capital of Peru. Its sprawling shantytowns lack basic services like water and electricity.
Reporting by Mitra Taj; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn