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Paraguay paralyzed by anti-privatization strike

Wednesday - 3/26/2014, 5:13pm  ET

Members of Paraguay's National Farmers Federation gather for a meeting during a general strike, the first in 20 years, in Asuncion, Paraguay, Wednesday, March 26, 2014. Workers, farmers, teachers and students united seeking a variety of demands from the Horacio Cartes government that include price control for basic foods, free, quality education, a raise in minimum wage, agrarian reform and an end to violence against small farmers. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) -- Public life in Paraguay was largely paralyzed on Wednesday by a nationwide strike against the privatization plans of President Horacio Cartes.

The strike stopped bus and taxi service and closed schools and most businesses in the South American country, union leader Aldo Snead said.

The unions want Cartes to roll back a law enabling private companies to invest in government infrastructure in exchange for owning concessions and charging fees. They also are demanding 25 percent pay raises and more access to credit for poor people to start their own small businesses.

Public Works Minister Ramon Jimenez said the public-private investment plan includes the international airport that serves Paraguay's capital, state-owned water treatment plants and the construction of international toll roads linking Asuncion with Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia. It also affects the agency that dredges the Paraguay river and keeps the landlocked country with a navigable outlet to the sea.

Cartes acknowledged that Paraguay's workers have legitimate historic complaints, but has showed no signs of backing down. As crowds of strikers marched past closed storefronts, the president held his routine weekly meeting with armed forces leaders.

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