Date: Thu, 22 Jun 2000 Reuters/AP:
48 Hours General Strike in Paraguay - Protesters vs Police

Paraguay police, protesters clash amid strike

ASUNCION, June 22 (Reuters) - Paraguayan police arrested at least four
demonstrators and 11 people were injured in clashes in the capital on the
first day of a 48-hour general strike against the South American country's
privatisation plans, police and unions said on Thursday.

“There are six injured protesters who were brutally and unnecessarily beaten
by riot police,” said the head of the National Transport Workers Union,
Persio Duarte.

Unions are demanding that the government back down on plans to allow private
investment in telephone company Antelco, water company Corposana and the
country's only railway company.

Police said four members of security forces were also injured in the clashes
between police and groups of protesters who tried to block access roads into
Asuncion, the usually sleepy capital of the subtropical nation of 5 million

The streets of the main shopping and business districts in Asuncion and in
the trading town of Ciudad del Este on the borders of Brazil and Argentina
were almost deserted and most shops and offices were closed. Bus drivers also
joined the strike.

But a government spokesman said the country's two main airports were
operating as normal and Secretary of the Presidency Jaime Bestard called the
strike a failure.

“The assistance level at public institutions is very high. We estimate that
some 80 percent of (state) workers are at their posts and all services are
functioning normally,” Bestard said at a press conference.

Interior Minister Walter Bower accused protesters of taking “an extreme
attitude, attacking the police...and provoking a violent reaction in which it
is difficult to control the use of force.”

Public Works Minister Jose Alberto Planas told reporters that “the rights of
both protesters and those who wish to go to work are totally guaranteed by
the security forces.”

Companies which operate Paraguay's private public transport system said at
least 10 vehicles were damaged by protesters who threw rocks or set fire to
the buses.

The government posted about 10,000 police around the country and told public
servants that they had special permission to arrive late to work.

Public service unions have called an eight-day strike against the
privatisation plans that began on Wednesday, although most government offices
continued to function.

Private sector unions called a 48-hour strike.

“We are against this (privatization) plan because it is completely
irrational and is aimed at nothing but covering up fraud and con tricks,”
said Corposana union chief Hugo Gonzalez.

Since the 35-year dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner ended in 1989,
giving way to a corruption-riddled democracy run by Stroessner's Colorado
Party, Paraguay has already sold off a handful of state enterprises.

State airline LAPSA, the sugar refinery Canas Paraguayas, the merchant naval
fleet operating on the Paraguay River and the steel company Aceros del
Paraguay all went to private hands.

Widespread political unrest, including the collapse of the coalition between
President Luis Gonzalez Macchi's Colorados and their erstwhile Liberal Party
allies, has helped delay Paraguay's privatisation plans.

Paraguay's official gross domestic product of $10 billion is swollen by a
huge black market economy fed by rampant smuggling.


Police Battle Paraguay Protesters

c The Associated Press

ASUNCION,  Paraguay June 22 (AP) - Riot police fired tear gas and unleashed
water cannons Thursday to disperse hundreds of workers on a strike called by
labor unions opposed to a government privatization plan.

At least 20 people were injured and dozens arrested, authorities said, as
thousands of transport and other union workers launched the first of a
two-day strike supported by three of the country's four largest labor groups.

Most stores and schools in downtown Asuncion and in Ciudad del Este. Most
public transportation ground to a halt.

Union workers are incensed over a government plan to sell railroad, water,
and telephone systems to private parties. Approved by the Senate in May, the
plan is to be voted on by the lower house on June 29.

Critics of the plan say putting the state-run businesses in private hands
could leave the jobs of some 15,000 people at risk.

Persio Duarte, a labor leader, threatened more strikes if the government
didn't withdraw its plan.

“In some way we're going to take revenge against the government,” he told
reporters. “Not with acts of violence, but with more strikes and protests
that will disrupt this process of privatization.”

Government spokesman Jaime Bestard said the government would allow the
strikes to continue, but would not revoke its proposed plan to privatize.

“The right of the unions to strike will be respected,” he told reporters.
“But the project to reform the state will not be reversed. It's

A protracted economic crisis has brought widespread discontent with the
government of President Luis Gonzalez Macchi, which has struggled to
rejuvenate Paraguay's stagnant economy.

With per capita income just above dlrs 1,600 a year, some 22 percent of
Paraguay's 5.4 million people live in poverty. The unemployment rate hovers
near 16 percent and 300,000 peasants in the countryside are clamoring for
land. Many people depend on cash-strapped state enterprises for their


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