efe-epaTegucigalpa

Protests associated with a strike launched Thursday by teachers and doctors against ostensible plans to privatize education and health care led to disturbances in this capital and other Honduran cities.

While the job action largely paralyzed public schools and had a major effect on public hospitals, confrontations between strikers and police left 25 people injured, authorities said.

Educators and medical professionals went forward with the strike despite President Juan Orlando Hernandez's approval Wednesday night of a decree purporting to ensure that the proposed overhauls of schools and health care would not lead to privatization.

In Tegucigalpa, teachers and doctors were joined by students and opposition activists in marching through the capital to Toncontin International Airport.

Chanting slogans such as "JOH (Juan Orlando Hernandez) Out," some in the group used a dump-truck to deposit dirt on one side of the airport access road as a makeshift barricade, while others set piles of tires ablaze.

Police responded with volleys of tear gas and the noxious cloud seeped into the terminal, forcing authorities to evacuate passengers and airport employees through the rear of the building and shepherd them on foot across the runways to the Honduran air force garrison at Toncontin.

Hooded militants also broke windows at several fast-food restaurants in a nearby shopping center.

At the other end of Tegucigalpa, protesters commandeered a police vehicle delivering food to officers monitoring the demonstrations. The attackers took the food and then set the vehicle on fire.

The crisis can be solved only through the abandonment of the planned reforms of education and health care, Dr. Ramon Lagos told EFE.

The proposed laws aim to "implement processes that lead to privatization," he said, pointing to the experience of doctors and teachers in Colombia.

Lagos, who works at the Tegucigalpa Teaching Hospital, the country's leading medical facility, said that the Honduran people "cannot make any more sacrifices."

Protesters expressed skepticism about the Hernandez decree asserting that the controversial bills "contain no authorization or faculty to privatize or carry out mass dismissals in the systems of education and health."

"It's a lie because (the decree) is outside the law," middle-school teacher Karla Irias told EFE, calling on ordinary Hondurans to "join the struggle."

"Society needs to be aware that we are fighting for something just," she said.

Hernandez, a rightist, began a second term as president in January 2018, two months after winning re-election in balloting that was marred by what observers from the Organization of American States and the European Union described as serious irregularities.

Both Hernandez and the candidate of the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship, Salvador Nasralla, claimed victory after the election on Nov. 26, 2017.

While the first partial results showed Nasralla with what officials described as an "irreversible" lead, an interruption in the tabulation was followed by the release of figures giving Hernandez the advantage.

On Dec. 17, authorities proclaimed Hernandez the winner with 42.95 percent of the vote, compared with 41.24 percent for Nasralla.

Hernandez's re-election bid was controversial from the start, as the Honduran Constitution limits the president to one term.

His candidacy was permitted on the basis of a May 2015 ruling by five Supreme Court judges who owed their appointments to Hernandez.

EFE

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