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Protesters burn part of the Guatemalan Congress building

CITY OF GUATEMALA (AP) – Hundreds of protesters stormed the Congress of Guatemala and burned part of the building on Saturday amid growing demonstrations against President Alejandro Giamatti and the legislature to approve a controversial budget that cut spending on education and health care.

The incident occurred when about 7,000 people protested in front of the National Palace in Guatemala against corruption and the budget, which protesters said were negotiated and passed by lawmakers in secret, while the Central American state was distracted by the effects of a return to hurricanes and the COVID-1

9 pandemic.

A video on social media shows flames firing a window into the legislature. Police fired tear gas at protesters.

“I feel that the future is being stolen from us. We don’t see change, it can’t go on like this, “said Mauricio Ramirez, a 20-year-old university student.

The extent of the damage to the building is unclear, but the flames initially appear to have affected the legislature, not the main congressional hall. Protesters also set fire to some bus stations.

Giammattei condemned the fires on his Twitter account on Saturday.

“Anyone who is proven to have been involved in criminal acts will be punished with the full force of the law.” He writes that he defends the right of people to protest, “but we cannot allow people to vandalize public or private property. “.

The president said he had met with various groups to present changes to the controversial budget.

Dissatisfaction was building on the 2021 budget on social media, and clashes erupted during demonstrations on Friday. Guatemalans were outraged because lawmakers approved $ 65,000 to pay for food, but also cut funding for coronavirus patients and human rights agencies.

Protesters were also upset by recent actions by the Supreme Court and the Attorney General, which they see as attempts to undermine the fight against corruption.

Vice President Guillermo Castillo offered to resign, telling Jamati that both men should step down “for the good of the country.” He also proposed vetoing the approved budget, laying off civil servants and trying to expand the scope of various sectors in the country.

Giammattei had not responded publicly to this proposal, and Castillo did not share the president’s reaction to his proposal. Castillo said he would not resign alone.

The cost plan was secretly agreed and approved by Congress before dawn on Wednesday. It also passed while the country was distracted by the effects of Hurricanes Eta and Iota, which brought torrential rains to much of Central America.

The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in Guatemala also called on Jamattei to veto the budget on Friday.

“It was an insidious blow to the people because Guatemala was in the midst of natural disasters, there are signs of corruption in the government, clientelism in humanitarian aid,” said Jordan Rhodes, the country’s human rights prosecutor.

He said the budget seems to favor ministries that have historically been hot spots of corruption.

In 2015, mass street protests against corruption led to the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina, his vice president Roxana Baldetti and members of his cabinet. Both the former president and Baldetti are in prison awaiting trials in various corruption cases.

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