SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – Masked protesters seized the San Salvador cathedral Wednesday, demanding President-elect Tony Saca (search) pull Salvadoran soldiers out of Iraq.
Saca, who takes office June 1, has said he will leave El Salvador's (search) nearly 379-member detachment in Iraq until August, as planned, despite the early departures of the Spanish troops under which they were serving.
About 50 people wearing ski masks stormed the cathedral and kicked out visitors and faithful. They sealed the doors and hung banners protesting everything from the government's health policy to a proposed U.S.-Central America free trade agreement. They also demanded that Saca rehire about 150 government employees who were recently fired.
They remained in control of the Roman Catholic church late Wednesday night and were spending the night there.
Earlier in the day, police used tear gas and clubs to clear away dozens of protesters left outside the church and detained three people. Skirmishing outside the building continued sporadically.
Demonstrators and police clashed dozens of times during the day, often violently, and protesters burned a van belonging to a television station as well as nearby phone booths.
The Red Cross (search) said it treated 25 people, including several children, who were suffering from the effects of tear gas or had been injured by rocks thrown by protesters.
"This isn't the way to talk to the government," Saca said of the protest.
At least 13 Salvadoran soldiers have been wounded and one killed during their posting to Iraq as part of a multinational force meant to provide humanitarian aid and security.