Protesters burn Guatemalan Congress building to demand president resign

Part of the Congress building is set on fire during an anti-government protest in Guatemala City on Nov 21, 2020.
Part of the Congress building is set on fire during an anti-government protest in Guatemala City on Nov 21, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

GUATEMALA CITY (AFP) - Hundreds of Guatemalans partly burned the Congress building on Saturday (Nov 21) in a protest demanding the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei, following the passage of a budget that has sparked outrage in the impoverished Central American nation.

The flames in the legislative building could be seen from the street in Guatemala City, and a spokesman for the Red Cross told journalists that the group had treated several people for intoxication.

Another peaceful protest, also urging Dr Giammattei to resign, took place in front of the old government palace in the historic centre of the capital, not far from Congress.

Carrying the national flag and banners that said "No more corruption", "Giammattei out" and "They messed with the wrong generation", the protesters filled the central square in Guatemala City in front of the old palace.

The widespread discontent and indignation in Guatemala against Dr Giammattei's administration and Congress are caused by a lack of resources for battling the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the new budget.

Guatemala's Congress, dominated by conservative pro-government parties, this week approved an almost US$13 billion (S$17.47 billion) budget, the largest in the country's history.

Most of the funds will go to infrastructure tied to big business, sparking outrage in a country where poverty is widespread and half of children under five years old are malnourished.

Analysts have also warned that a third of the budget will need to be financed by debt.

The country's Congress has also approved US$3.8 billion to fight the coronavirus pandemic, but less than 15 per cent of those funds have been invested.

Dr Giammattei's vice-president said on Friday night he had asked the President to resign with him.

"For the good of the country, I asked him that we present our resignations together," Mr Guillermo Castillo said in a message posted on social media.

He also reportedly told the President that "things are not right", and admitted to tensions between himself and the head of state.

Dr Giammattei, a 64-year-old doctor, swept to power in January promising to clean up corruption and fight organised crime.

But his presidency has been dominated by controversy over his handling of the coronavirus, particularly deficiencies in the country's hospitals.

He has also publicly sparred with his vice-president, who in May revealed the two had privately clashed over the best response to the Covid-19 pandemic.