Guatemalan prosecutors urge president to resign amid scandal

AP News
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Posted: Aug 27, 2015 9:34 PM
Guatemalan prosecutors urge president to resign amid scandal

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Pressure grew Thursday on Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina to resign as business and government offices closed, protesters marched by the thousands and the attorney general's office urged him to step down "to prevent ungovernability that could destabilize the nation."

Guatemala's congress also named a commission of five legislators to consider whether to remove the president's immunity from prosecution, a process somewhat like impeachment. But only one member of the commission was from the opposition, and a previous effort in congress failed.

In comments to a local radio station in the evening, Perez Molina reiterated that he does not intend to resign and will face the process against him.

"I am here and I am not going to turn my back on the Guatemalan people," the president said. "I am not going to hide ... I have nothing to hide."

Perez Molina was monitoring the march from the Government Ministry, according to his office.

His government is on the ropes because of a fraud scandal involving bribes funneled to a chain of officials who helped businesses evade import duties, including allegedly his vice president, who was forced to resign and is now in jail awaiting trial.

Major government offices and businesses, the power base in Guatemala, have urged him to reconsider his resolve to stay, including the government comptrollers' office.

Even Guatemala's national Council of Bishops issued a statement saying "we believe the president should reconsider his decision not to resign ... we fear that his current position could cause more polarization and conflict in the country."

Seven cabinet members have resigned and two, his former defense and interior ministers, have left Guatemala, the country's immigration service confirmed.

The massive protest Thursday followed days of intermittent roadblocks by demonstrators who want the president to resign and the Sept. 6 presidential elections to be postponed.

Perez Molina told the radio station that he respects protesters' right to make that demand, but said delaying the vote would "go against the law."

Guatemala City's main square was a sea of blue-and-white national flags and white-clad protesters who chanted "Otto out!" The demonstrations drew a broad range of Guatemalans, from impoverished Indians to the country's upper-middle class.

"We usually don't go to protests, because of fear, but now this is sending a message of hope and an opportunity to educate our children, politically," said Mario Ovalle, 48, a lawyer who attended the march with his daughters, aged 9 and 12. "The exciting thing is that this has brought together all classes of society, with a common objective."

The marches included one by college students, and Eduardo Valdes, the rector of the Jesuit Rafael Landivar University, said "the corruption ... has become unbearable for the people."

Interior Minister Eunice Mendizabal ordered police guarding government buildings not to carry firearms.

"No violence, no provoking violence, no giving in to provocation," Mendizabal said. "We must respect the people's right to protest."

A leading business, industrial and agricultural association added its voice to those calling for the president's resignation.

Pollo Campero, the country's iconic fried chicken chain, joined the stoppage and shuttered its outlets in Guatemala City on Thursday. Hamburger and pizza chains announced on their Facebook pages and websites that they were also joining the shutdown. The national chamber of commerce called on its members to let their employees attend the demonstrations "as long as they are peaceful and law-abiding."

On Wednesday, Perez Molina's former Vice President Roxana Baldetti was ordered to remain in jail pending trial on charges of conspiracy, customs fraud and bribery, based on allegations that she accepted $3.7 million in bribes from businessmen to evade import duties.

She too has denied any wrongdoing.

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Associated Press writers Sonia Perez D. and Alvaro Montenegro contributed to this report from Guatemala City.


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