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Thursday Jul 18 2019

Clashes erupt during Puerto Rico protest over governor’s leaked texts, corruption

Clashes erupt during Puerto Rico protest. REUTERS Video/Screenshot

SAN JUAN: Clashes erupted on Wednesday during the protests against Puerto Rico governor — over his leaked texts and alleged corruption — when police fired tear gas at demonstrators who set fires and threw rocks.

Thousands marched in Puerto Rico for the fifth day on Wednesday — when the protest turned violent — demanding the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello, following a federal probe into government corruption on the island and leaked text messages in which he made sexist and homophobic remarks.

To the chant of "Ricky, renuncia!" ("Ricky, resign!") large crowds gathered in the capital San Juan clamouring for Rossello to leave office — which he is refusing to do.

Local celebrity performers such as rapper Benito Martinez ("Bad Bunny"), pop icon Ricky Martin, and Rene Perez ("Residente") had urged their fellow Puerto Ricans to demonstrate.

Clashes erupt during Puerto Rico protest. REUTERS Video/Screenshot

"Not just me but many Puerto Ricans will hit the streets to demonstrate for what is correct," Martinez told the Spanish-language Telemundo network before heading to the march.

"We want him to leave and we will be here every day until he resigns or is removed," Joan Lopez, a 48-year-old teacher, told AFP at the demonstration.

Police fired tear gas at the crowd on Monday after a fire broke out near the government headquarters. Five protesters were arrested.

The Caribbean island of Puerto Rico is a US territory and residents are American citizens but it does not have the same congressional representation accorded to states.

Rossello is under pressure after US federal agents arrested contractors and government officials — including former education secretary Julia Keleher — on corruption charges.

Clashes erupt during Puerto Rico protest. REUTERS Video/Screenshot

The protests erupted after the Center for Investigative Journalism on Saturday released 889 pages of text chats on the encrypted messaging app Telegram in which Rossello and 12 other male administration members criticise officials, politicians, and journalists.

They shared memes, jokes, and crude sexual insults, according to the Center and an excerpt published by local daily El Nuevo Dia.

In one exchange, chief financial officer Christian Sobrino makes homophobic references to Latin superstar Martin.

Martin, of "Livin' la Vida Loca" and "She Bangs" fame, vented his fury in a video posted on Twitter.

"They mocked our dead, they mocked women, they mocked the LGBT community, they made fun of people with physical and mental disabilities, they made fun of obesity," he said.

"It's enough — this cannot be."

Demonstrators are also angry over Rossello's handling of the Hurricane Maria emergency in 2017, which left nearly 3,000 dead, and the island in financial crisis.

Some stores near the government headquarters nailed wood planks over their windows anticipating unrest.

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