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Protesters set fire to Paraguay Congress after secret vote on presidential term

Violent protests have broken out in Paraguay following a secret Senate vote approving a bill to allow President Horacio Cartes to run for a second term. Presidents are currently limited to a single five-year term.

After several hours of escalating violence and confrontations with police, television images on Friday showed protesters breaking glass windows and setting fire to Paraguay's Congress. Police in riot gear responded by lobbing tear gas and firing rubber bullets.

Several politicians and journalists were hurt, local media reported, while many people were still inside Congress as the flames spread. Interior Minister Tadeo Rojas said many police were also injured.

Rejecting the violence on Twitter, President Horacio Cartes later called for calm.

Horacio Cartes

Paraguay President Horacio Cartes

Secret vote

Demonstrators stormed the building after the Senate secretly voted for a constitutional amendment that would allow Cartes to run for re-election, a change that will also require approval by the House.

The measure was backed by 25 of the country's 45 senators. The yes votes came from members of the governing Colorado Party and from several opposition groups.

Paraguay's constitution has prohibited re-election since it was passed in 1992 after the fall of a brutal dictatorship three years earlier.

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

Referendum necessary

After approval in the Senate on Friday, the proposal went to the Chamber of Deputies, where 44 of the 80 members belong to the Colorado Party. Approval there would require the scheduling of a national referendum on the amendment.

By removing the ban, the reform would also allow left-wing former president Fernando Lugo to run for office again. He held power from 2008 to 2012.

ksb/jm (Reuters, AP)

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