Guatemala congressman killed as inauguration nears

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 13, 2012 12:39 PM
Guatemala congressman killed as inauguration nears

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - A Guatemalan congressman was shot dead in his car within blocks of the legislative assembly on Friday, one day before a new president and new body of lawmakers take power.

Valentin Leal, who defected on Wednesday to the party of incoming President Otto Perez, was killed when two assassins on a motorcycle pulled alongside his grey SUV and pelted the vehicle with at least 17 bullets, police said.

Perez, who will be sworn in on Saturday, has vowed to boost the number of police and send the military to fight the Mexican drug cartels who use the country's porous border region as a smuggling route for cocaine.

Political violence is common in Guatemala and 43 people were killed in the 2011 elections, including municipal and congressional candidates, according to the Attorney General's office for human rights.

Perez's conservative Patriot Party (PP) won 58 seats in last September's elections to form the largest block in the 158-member unicameral congress, but lacks the two-thirds majority needed to ensure policies pass swiftly.

He has been talking with lawmakers from rival parties to lure them to the PP's ranks.

Leal, an attorney, had served as a congressman for the Renewed Democratic Liberty party in the last administration.

He was to represent the northern province of Alta Verapaz, where in December 2010 the government declared a 60-day 'state of siege' that suspended constitutional rights as state forces raided homes and businesses in search of powerful organized crime bosses.

(Reporting by Mike McDonald, writing by Elinor Comlay; Editing by Philip Barbara)