Paraguay's president decreed a state of emergency on Monday, (July 15), following protests against the government's free-market policies.
The state of emergency, declared by Gonzalez Macchi, allows the government to ban demonstrations, search homes and arrest individuals over the next five days, and gives permission to the armed forces to quell protests.
Mon Jul 15, 8:20 PM ET
By Daniela Desantis
ASUNCION, Paraguay (Reuters) - Paraguay's president decreed a state of emergency on Monday, suspending some civil rights, after at least four people were shot and seriously injured followed by dozens of arrests in escalating nationwide protests against his economic policies. In the capital, police officers with water cannons took up positions outside Congress in downtown Asuncion. Soldiers surrounded the legislature and a military helicopter hovered overhead as about 400 protesters dispersed after 33 demonstrators were arrested, police said. Earlier on Monday, baton-wielding police battled with hundreds of protesters who blockaded roads across the recession-hit South American nation, which often has been rocked by coup attempts and political instability since democracy was restored in 1989 after 35 years of military dictatorship. President Luis Gonzalez Macchi's government blamed the protests on followers of Lino Oviedo, a former general living in asylum in Brazil suspected of masterminding three failed coup attempts since 1996. Oviedo denied he was involved. The state of emergency — the first declared by Gonzalez Macchi since a failed coup attempt led by Oviedo's regiment in May 2000 — allows the government to ban demonstrations, search homes and arrest individuals over the next five days, and gives permission to the armed forces to quell protests. The riots were the latest in often-violent protests against the free-market policies of a government that already has been forced to backtrack on its privatization plans. A series of corruption scandals have added to the president's troubles. Four people, including an 11-year-old, were treated for bullet wounds after one clash between 800 protesters and police in Ciudad del Este, some 200 miles east of Asuncion, when police removed protesters from Puente de la Amistad bridge, which links Paraguay to Brazil, officials said. Police also fired tear gas and water cannons, television showed. "We came here to say we're tired of so much corruption and poverty. We want this useless president to resign," said one protester outside Congress in the capital, where another 600 protesters demonstrated. GROWING REGIONAL TROUBLES Many of Paraguay's 5.7 million people live in poverty, as subsistence landless farmers. Famed for its rampant smuggling, isolated Paraguay was ruled by military strongman Alfredo Stroessner for 35 years until he was deposed in 1989. Buffeted by neighboring Argentina's worst-ever economic crisis and Brazil's slumping currency, the California-sized nation devalued its currency this year, adding to the woes of an economy mired in stagnation since 1995. Paraguay's troubles come as South American nations face a backlash against free-market policies of the 1990s. In Brazil, a leftist heads public-opinion polls ahead of October presidential elections. In Peru, the government last month was forced to suspend privatizations due to violent protests. The main opposition Liberal party, which controls the vice presidency, said it agreed with the protesters, and encouraged Liberal party followers to take part in demonstrations. Former Senate head Gonzalez Macchi was appointed president in 1999 when then-President Raul Cubas — an Oviedo loyalist — resigned amid violent protests after his vice president, Luis Argana, an avowed Oviedo rival, was slain in Asuncion. Oviedo had begun a presidential campaign in 1998 but stepped down when he was charged with plotting a 1996 coup. The next presidential election is scheduled for May 2003. The International Monetary Fund, pressing for privatizations, has been negotiating new loans with the government. Congress also has been talking to the World Bank to help shield it from the effects of Argentina's economic woes.