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Protesters storm Suriname's parliament as anti-austerity rally turns chaotic

By Ank Kuipers

PARAMARIBO (Reuters) -Dozens of protesters forced their way into Suriname's parliament as hundreds more rampaged through the capital Paramaribo on Friday, clashing with police as demonstrations against the government descended into chaos.

Thousands took to the streets in initially peaceful demonstrations against government austerity measures, including the elimination of subsidies, against a backdrop of high inflation.

But the protests turned ugly when demonstrators throwing rocks and bottles at police stormed parliament's grounds, with some making their way into the building before being forced back, a Reuters witness said. Police fired tear gas in return.

Others started fires and looted shops, many of which had closed as a precaution amid the unrest.

The government of President Chan Santokhi condemned the violence, saying in a statement it had set up a task force to track down those responsible for attacking parliament.

Santokhi's office urged citizens to avoid downtown and busy locations, saying there had been 50 arrests "and this number will continue to rise."

The U.S embassy in Paramaribo condemned the attack on the National Assembly building and related violence in a statement, calling the incidents an "unacceptable assault on democracy."

Suriname's Ministry of Economy, Entrepreneurship and Technological Innovation advised businesses owners to shut their premises on Friday and Saturday, due to safety concerns.

Five business associations advised the community to remain closed until further notice, saying in a statement that "security forces were insufficiently prepared for the escalation" of violence.

Suriname, a former Dutch colony in northern South America with a population of 610,000, reported inflation of 54.6% for 2022.

The protests come in the same week that the smallest party in government left the ruling coalition, citing disagreements over poverty and social policies.

(Reporting by Ank Kuipers; Writing by Oliver Griffin and Valentine Hilaire; Editing by John Stonestreet, Marguerita Choy, Josie Kao and William Mallard)