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HUNDREDS of protesters broke into Guatemala’s congress and set fire to part of the building on Saturday amid growing anger at President Alejandro Giammattei’s budget cuts to education and healthcare.
Around 10,000 people were protesting in front of the National Palace, Guatemala City, against corruption and the budget, which was negotiated and passed by legislators in secret while the Central American country was dealing with the fallout of back-to-back hurricanes and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Footage on social media showed flames lapping against a window of the legislative building on Saturday. Police fired tear gas at protesters and about a dozen people were reported injured.
“We are outraged by poverty, injustice and the way they have stolen the public’s money,” said psychology professor Rosa de Chavarria.
“I feel like the future is being stolen from us. We don’t see any changes. This cannot continue,” said Mauricio Ramirez, a 20-year-old university student.
The amount of damage to the building was unclear, but the flames initially appear to have affected legislative offices, rather than the main hall of congress.
Mr Giammattei condemned the fires via his Twitter account on Saturday.
“Anyone who is proven to have participated in the criminal acts will be punished with the full force of the law,” he wrote.
The president defended people’s right to protest but said we cannot “allow people to vandalise public or private property.”
The Guatemalan Trade Union, Indigenous and Peasant Movement hit back at the president’s comments today, saying that “the only violence in Guatemala at this time has been carried out [by] Giammattei and his 115 deputies against the people.”
“Every act of protest and resistance is legitimate and framed in the defence of constitutional order,” the organisation said.
Guatemalans were angered last week when politicians approved £49,000 to pay for meals for themselves, but cut funding for coronavirus patients and human rights agencies, among other things.
Vice-President Guillermo Castillo has offered to resign, telling Mr Giammattei that both men should relinquish their positions “for the good of the country.”
He also suggested vetoing the approved budget, firing government officials and attempting more outreach.
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