Protesters set Paraguay Congress on fire

Protesters set Paraguay Congress on fire

April 1: Protesters in Paraguay stormed the Congress and set fire to part of the building on Friday after the Senate voted to amend the Constitution to allow President Horacio Cartes to seek re-election, raising concerns over renewed political instability.

Television networks showed demonstrators ransacking offices in the Congress as flames engulfed part of the structure, before security forces dislodged the protesters and firefighters extinguished the blaze. The protests stunned some political leaders who were pushing for the amendment, with the lower house of Congress suspending a vote scheduled for the weekend on the measure, according to Paraguayan news reports.

“I didn’t expect to witness something like this,” Hugo Velázquez, the speaker of the lower house, told reporters in explaining the decision to suspend the vote. “I am calling for harmony.”

The tension over efforts to amend the Constitution in favor of Mr. Cartes, a conservative tobacco magnate elected to a five-year term in 2013, reveal how Paraguay remains shaken by the 35-year rule of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner from 1954 to 1989.

With many Paraguayans distrustful of strong leaders as a result of that period, the 1992 Constitution imposed strong checks on executive power and limited the president to a single five-year term. But supporters of Mr. Cartes, whose conservative Colorado Party held a tight grip on power for six decades until 2008, saw an opening to change it.

The protests in the capital, Asunción, rekindled concern over a return to instability, with some in Paraguay saying that the Senate’s vote amounted to a coup.

Paraguay’s Senate had already gained notoriety in 2012 when it ousted Fernando Lugo, then the president, just nine months before an election, prompting criticism around Latin America.

In a twist, supporters of Mr. Lugo, who is now a senator, have also backed the re-election amendment, spurring speculation that he may stand to benefit from the measure if he mounts a successful bid for the presidency next year.

News organizations in Paraguay reported that numerous protesters were injured in Asunción. Meanwhile, Mr. Cartes, 60, issued a statement on Friday night in which he blamed his opponents and the news media for the protests, saying they had “the objective of destroying democracy.”AGENCIES