Published: Mon, November 23, 2020

Guatemala protesters set fire to congress as violence erupts over controversial budget

Guatemala protesters set fire to congress as violence erupts over controversial budget

Thousands of people flocked to Guatemala City's main plaza on Saturday in the biggest protest yet against President Alejandro Giammattei's government - over cuts in the 2021 budget - with some setting fire to the Congress building.

A video shows flames shooting out of a window. "But we can not allow vandalism of public or private property", he posted.

President Alejandro Giammattei tweeted that anyone involved in "criminal acts will be punished with the full force of the law".

At 99.7 billion quetzals (about $12.9 billion), the budget increased public debt while cutting funding for healthcare, education, human rights and the justice system, outraging people from students to business leaders in a year marked by the economic crisis of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some protesters approached the headquarters of the Legislative Palace, where they threw objects with fire into the offices of the Congress building.

Protesters were also upset by recent moves by the Supreme Court and Attorney General they saw as attempts to undermine the fight against corruption.

He said people were entitled to protest but destruction of property was unacceptable, adding that he had been meeting various groups over changes to the budget.

Vice President Guillermo Castillo has offered to resign, telling Giammattei that both men should resign their positions "for the good of the country".

On Friday, according to the Associated Press, discontent over the 2021 national budget in Guatemala rose in social media, with a call for a large protest emerging on Saturday. The president has not publicly responded to Castillo's comments.

The protesters are opposed to a budget which was approved by Congress on Wednesday night.

Earlier this month, Hurricane Eta battered the Central American country, leaving more than 150 people dead or unaccounted for.

"It was a devious blow to the people because Guatemala was between natural disasters, there are signs of government corruption, clientelism in the humanitarian aid", Jordan Rodas, the country's human rights prosecutor, said.

Both the former president and Ms Baldetti are in jail awaiting trials in various corruption cases.

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