Honduran protesters torch mayor's office in rally against reforms

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Anti-riot police fired tear gas and protesters threw Molotov cocktails during a mass demonstration in the Honduran capital against government proposals for health and education reforms that critics say would lead to privatization and job losses.

At least four buildings were set on fire, including the Tegucigalpa mayor’s office, as the demonstration turned violent, officials in the Central American republic said.

Protesters, many of them hooded, threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at police and buildings, setting several on fire, as anti-riot police fired tear gas in a bid to stop them from advancing on the buildings.

The protests took place as a work-stoppage continued in schools and some hospitals, after unions representing teachers and doctors launched strikes late last week.

President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who leads a conservative government allied with the United States, has defended the two bills as needed overhauls of the health and public education systems, including plans for new infrastructure and better training of workers.

His allies deny that the bills, approved late last week but still requiring a final vote, would privatize services or would lead to mass layoffs, another fear of the protesters.

“Those who are protesting don’t understand or don’t want to understand the law,” said Mauricio Oliva, the president of the Congress who leads Hernandez’s party in the chamber.

“There’s nothing (in the legislation) that says there will be layoffs,” he added.

Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore