Paraguay lawmakers vote down impeachment bid against president over pandemic


ASUNCION, March 17 (Reuters) - Paraguayan opposition lawmakers lost a bid on Wednesday to impeach President Mario Abdo over the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the South American country.

Abdo's conservative government has faced fierce protests in recent weeks as a surge in COVID-19 cases has left hospitals on the brink of collapse and out of drugs, while the country has been slow to secure vaccines.

Opposition lawmakers in the lower house of deputies put forward the motion to impeach Abdo and his vice-president.

Fifty-three votes were needed for the motion to pass and in the end, the president was thrown a lifeline by a voting bloc within the ruling Colorado Party led by former President Horacio Cartes.

"Just because you have a majority does not always mean you are right," said opposition deputy Edgar Acosta during the plenary session. "They may have won the political trial but they lost the citizen's trial."

Those who argued against the motion said the country needed stability to move forward with the purchase of vaccines and medicine critical to address the COVID-19 crisis.

The failed push will nonetheless pile further pressure on Abdo's government, which has been forced to shuffle several ministers, including the health minister and chief of staff, to help calm public anger.

Shortly after the result came through, police dispersed stone-throwing protesters with rubber bullets and water cannons near the congressional headquarters in the historic center of Asunción.

A smaller group of protesters attacked the headquarters of the ruling party, starting a small fire in part of the building which was later brought under control by police with no major damage or injuries reported.

Paraguay's health ministry reported a record daily high of 2,540 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of infections in the landlocked Latin nation to 185,888 and 3,588 people dead.

Reporting by Daniela Desantis; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Richard Chang

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