Sun, Apr 02, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Protesters torch Paraguay Congress

ALLY:Firefighters managed to put out the flames after demonstrators left the Congress, which was built with a US$20 million grant from the Taiwanese government

Reuters, ASUNCION

A demonstrator on Friday takes a selfie as the Paraguayan Congress in Asuncion burns after being set on fire by people protesting against the passage of an amendment allowing the nation’s president to be re-elected.

Photo: AFP

Protesters on Friday stormed and set fire to the Paraguayan Congress after the senate secretly voted for a constitutional amendment that would allow Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes to run for re-election.

The nation’s constitution has prohibited re-election since it was passed in 1992 after a brutal dictatorship fell in 1989.

“A coup has been carried out. We will resist and we invite the people to resist with us,” Paraguayan Senator Desiree Masi from the opposition Progressive Democratic Party said.

Firefighters managed to control the flames after protesters left the Congress building late on Friday night.

However, protests and riots continued in other parts of Asuncion and elsewhere in the country well into the night, media reported.

According to Paraguayan media, the Congress building was constructed with a US$20 million grant from Taiwan. Paraguay is Taiwan’s only ally in South America.

Earlier, TV footage showed protesters breaking windows of the Congress building and clashing with police, burning tires and removing parts of fences around the building.

Police in riot gear fired tear gas and rubber bullets.

Several politicians and journalists were injured, local media reported, and Paraguayan Minister of the Interior Tadeo Rojas said several police were hurt.

One member of the lower house of Congress, who had been participating in protests that afternoon, underwent surgery after being hit by rubber bullets.

Cartes called for calm and a rejection of violence in a statement released on Twitter.

“Democracy is not conquered or defended with violence and you can be sure this government will continue to put its best effort into maintaining order in the republic,” he said. “We must not allow a few barbarians to destroy the peace, tranquility and general well-being of the Paraguayan people.”

The unrest coincides with a rare high-level international event in the landlocked South American nation.

Thousands of businesspeople and government officials descended on Asuncion this week for the Inter-American Development Bank’s annual board of governors’ meeting.

While Paraguay long suffered from political uncertainty, the soy and beef-exporting nation has been attracting investment in agriculture and manufacturing sectors in recent years as Cartes offered tax breaks to foreign investors.

Instability in the nation of 6.8 million is a concern for its much larger neighbors Brazil and Argentina.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was monitoring the events.

“I call on political leaders to avoid inciting violence and seek dialogue,” commission representative for South America Amerigo Incalcaterra said.

The Paraguayan Senate earlier on Friday voted during a special session in a closed office rather than on the senate floor. Twenty-five lawmakers voted for the measure, two more than the 23 required for passage in the 45-member upper chamber.

Opponents of the measure, who said it would weaken Paraguay’s democratic institutions, said the vote was illegal.

The proposal requires approval by the Paraguayan Chamber of Deputies, where it appeared to have strong support.

A vote which had been expected early yesterday was called off until the situation calmed down, Paraguayan Chamber of Deputies President Hugo Velazquez said.

Several Latin American countries, including Paraguay, Peru and Chile, prevent presidents from running for consecutive terms in a region where memories of dictatorships remain ripe.

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