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Police on horseback are seen during a demonstration against a possible change in law to allow for presidential re-election in front of the Congress building in Asuncion, Paraguay, March 31, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Adorno(reuters_tickers)
By Daniela Desantis
ASUNCION (Reuters) - A protester was killed in Paraguay after violent clashes overnight sparked by a secret Senate vote for a constitutional amendment that would allow President Horacio Cartes to run for re-election.
Activists were seen arriving in Paraguay's capital on Saturday from the landlocked country's interior in a sign the protests that resulted in the country's Congress being stormed and set alight may go on.
Firefighters managed to control the flames on the building's first floor on Friday, although thousands of protesters rioted in other parts of Asuncion and elsewhere in the country into the early hours of Saturday.
Rodrigo Quintana, 25, was killed by a rubber bullet fired by police at the headquarters of a liberal youth activist group, the Paraguayan opposition said.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement an investigation would be opened into Quintana's death. His doctor said he had suffered a severe head injury.
Around 200 protesters were detained, police said, and shops and government buildings were vandalised.
Several politicians and journalists were injured, local media reported, and Interior Minister Tadeo Rojas said several police were hurt. One member of the lower house of Congress, who had been participating in protests that afternoon, underwent surgery after also being hit by rubber bullets.
Prosecutors and lawmakers were reviewing damage to the Congress on Saturday.
Meetings for the Inter-American Development Bank's (IADB) annual board of governors went ahead as scheduled in a rare high-level international event in Paraguay.
IADB President Luis Alberto Moreno called for peace and dialogue and said Paraguay would continue to be a vital partner of the regional bank.
While Paraguay has long suffered from political uncertainty, the soy- and beef-exporting country has attracted investment in agriculture and manufacturing sectors in recent years as Cartes offered tax breaks to foreign investors.
"We are saddened by what is happening, but it's the usual politics," Lea Gimenez, Paraguay's vice minister for economic affairs, told investors and journalists during a panel discussion.
Instability in the country of 6.8 million is a concern for its much larger neighbours Brazil and Argentina.
The region is already worried about unrest in Venezuela, where President Maduro on Saturday moved to quell protests and international condemnation. The pro-government Supreme Court revoked its controversial annulment of the opposition-led congress.
A presidential aide told Reuters that Cartes was meeting with his Security Council of police and military representatives and the interior minister would speak to press after the meeting.
Cartes called for calm and a rejection of violence in a statement released on Twitter on Friday. He promised the government would do its best to maintain order.
Paraguay's Senate voted on Friday during a special session in a closed office rather than on the Senate floor. Twenty-five lawmakers voted for the measure, two more than the 23 required for passage in the 45-member upper chamber.
Opponents of the measure, who claim it would weaken Paraguay's democratic institutions, said the vote was illegal.
The proposal will also require approval by the House, where it appeared to have strong support. A vote which had been expected early on Saturday was called off until the situation calmed down, said the chamber's president, Hugo Velazquez.
Gimenez said a popular referendum would also be required to change the law prohibiting re-election.
(Additional reporting by Luc Cohen, writing by Caroline Stauffer; editing by Alexander Smith, G Crosse)