President heads off minister’s censure with threat to dissolve Congress
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) _ President Julio Sanguinetti threatened to dissolve congress Tuesday if it censured his interior minister for the way police treated protesters, and the lawmakers settled for a motion of criticism.
The House of Deputies, controlled by the opposition, voted 47-42 for the resolution criticizing Interior Minister Carlos Manini Rios for the forceful ejection of a group of protesting students who had occupied at a teachers’ college Saturday.
Formal censure by both houses would by tradition have required the minister to step down or the president to dissolve congress and call elections.
A censure motion appeared headed for passage Tuesday when Manini Rios told the chamber that he would not step down and Sanguinetti was prepared to dissolve the legislature.
Despite the minister’s assertion earlier in the day, deputy Yamandu Fao, who organized 22 consecutive hours of debate on the issue, called immediately after the vote for Manini Rios to resign.
The resolution said the interior minister provided ″insufficient″ explanations for the campus action, in which mounted police struck several students with nightsticks and two legislators were roughed up.
The major opposition parties, the center-left National Party and a coalition of leftist groups called the Broad Front, hold 56 of the 99 seats in the House. Sanguinetti’s centrist Colorado Party has 41 and the conservative Civic Union has two.
Immediately after Manini Rios made his announcement late in the debate, Colorado deputies tried to force the opposition’s hand by calling for a General Assembly of the House and Senate to debate the issue.
The motion failed 47-42, the same margin by which the replacement resolution passed.
It was Sanguinetti’s most serious clash with the legislature since taking over March 1 from the military, which had governed the country for nearly 12 years.
The ejection of more than 100 students from the National Teaching Institute in Montevideo prompted a nationwide strike by public school teachers on Monday.
Students were demanding creation of an advisory board, including students, to make the school’s curriculum and teaching methods more ″democratic.″
Mounted police charged a crowd of students outside the institute and, later in the day, two Broad Front deputies who approached police barricades were handled roughly. One was detained briefly.
Manini Rios told lawmakers police arrested the deputy because they did not know he was a public official, and released him when they found out.