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Medicos in thick of Paraguayan protests

Doctors and medical students in Paraguay not only joined recent pro-democracy demonstrations in the nation’s capital Asunción, but many were at the forefront of attending protestors wounded by trigger-happy riot police.

The tiny landlocked South American nation sank into violent chaos in the last days of March (and into April) after its President Horacio Cartes, a tobacco and soft-drink mogul, moved to trash the country’s constitution in order to hang onto power.

A secret meeting of Senators voted to change the constitution that currently forbids a president to seek re-election after a single five-year term.

Cartes’ term expires next year.

The vote did not take place on the Senate floor but behind closed doors.

Once news broke of the clandestine meeting and its dubious result, riots broke out in the capital.

Paraguayans spent more than 30 years under the cruel dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner and now many fear their country is headed for another tyrannical reign.

Congress was set on fire and riot police resorted to rubber bullets in a bid to control protesters.

But in an even more brutal show of force, police stormed an opposition party’s offices and shot dead 25-year-old Rodrigo Quintana who was trying to flee them.

Despite initial reports the man was killed with rubber bullets, it was later revealed the police used real bullets to shoot him in the back.

The incident has sparked even greater outrage among the general population.

Dr Herminio Ruiz, the doctor who attended Quintana, said the young man had received a blow to his head.

Other medicos were first on the scene to help injured protestors, despite authorities dragging many away.

One medical student, Juan Andrés del Puerto, who joined the protests and subsequently gave aid to others, told reporters on the scene: “I think this country deserves politicians who genuinely respect the constitution.”

The President has called for calm, but the opposition has accused him and his co-conspirators of staging a coup on the nation’s democracy.

Chris Johnson