ASUNCION, Paraguay — Violent clashes erupted outside Paraguay’s congress, with demonstrators setting fires around the legislative building after the Senate approved a constitutional amendment to allow presidents to run more than once in a country still haunted by the 35-year rule of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner.
Authorities said Saturday at least one person was killed in an incident at an opposition party headquarters away from congress following the vote that some members of the opposition criticized as irregular.
Dozens of other people, including a police officer, were arrested Friday evening in demonstrations that saw protesters break through police lines and enter the first floor of the legislature, setting fire to papers and furniture. Police used water cannon and fired rubber bullets to drive demonstrators away from the building while firefighters extinguished blazes inside.
The protests broke out after a majority of Paraguayan senators approved the constitutional amendment allowing for presidential re-election. Some opposition members said the move was illegal because the vote was taken without all members of the senate present.
The proposal would allow current President Horacio Cartes and Paraguay’s previous presidents to run for the top job again in the 2018 election. Presidents are now limited to a single 5-year term.
“My colleagues have carried out a coup because of the irregular and illegal manner in which they modified no less than the Constitution,” Sen. Luis Alberto Wagner of the opposition Authentic Radical Liberal Party said after the Friday evening vote.
The process to pass the amendment began on Tuesday when 25 senators changed the internal procedures to speed up the vote against the wishes of Senate President Roberto Acevedo and other members of the chamber.
Acevedo, of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party, said that process violated Senate rules and he filed an appeal to the Supreme Court seeking to have the decision overturned.
Political analyst Ignacio Martinez said the extreme reaction to the move likely lies in fears of another long-running government like that of Stroessner, who ruled Paraguay from 1954-1989 after a military coup.
The measure for a constitutional amendment allowing for presidential re-election 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.
After approval in the Senate, 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.
Prosecutor Raquel Fernandez said the one reported death occurred early Saturday at the offices of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party. The circumstances of the death of Rodrigo Quintana, a youth leader of the party, were unclear.