Fire at Paraguay election agency kills one; casts doubt on votes

ASUNCION, Sept 29 (Reuters) - A fire broke out at the headquarters of Paraguay's national electoral agency on Thursday, killing one person and raising questions about prospects for presidential primaries and general elections scheduled for coming months.

A huge cloud of black smoke and big flames rose from the Superior Court of Electoral Justice (TSJE) in the capital, Asuncion. The facility, where hundreds of officials work, is used to store election material, including voting machines.

"We have suffered serious damage. We cannot confirm absolutely anything about its causes," TSJE Minister Jorge Bogarin told a radio station.

Fire Captain Hermes Villa confirmed the discovery of the body of an official who had gone missing after the fire erupted.

Bogarin said the fire could "eventually alter the schedule that was already drawn up" for coming elections.

He said a team would be set up to investigate the cause of the fire and to find ways to ensure the elections are held.

Primaries for presidential candidates are scheduled for Dec. 18 and general elections for president, vice president, governors and congressmen are scheduled for April 30.

TSJE President Jaime Bestard told a news conference the fire may have damaged 8,500 voting machines and he would look into holding December's primaries in two stages.

But one opposition party leader raised an objection to that suggestion.

"Breaking the elections up is a plan to carry out fraud," said Efrain Alegre, president of the opposition Liberal Party.

"The law establishes that the primaries are held at the same time as a way to prevent voters from fraudulently voting in two primaries," Alegre said.

Reporting by Daniela Desantis; Editing by Sandra Maler, Robert Birsel

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