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Guatemala's interior minister resigns, first protester dies in clashes with armed group

Published 10/16/2023, 09:50 PM
Updated 10/17/2023, 02:30 AM
© Reuters. A man pours a liquid on a burning barricade, as part of a national strike to demand the resignation of authorities from the attorney general's office, in Guatemala City, Guatemala October 10, 2023. REUTERS/Josue Decavele/File Photo

By Sofia Menchu

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) -The interior minister in Guatemala's outgoing administration resigned late on Monday following the first death of a protester during demonstrations calling for an orderly transition to a government led by President-elect Bernardo Arevalo.

The reform-minded Arevalo won a landslide victory in August, but since then the attorney general's office has intensified investigations into the election and the president-elect's Seed Movement party, prompting its supporters to take to the streets.

The protests began on Oct. 2, and most had played out peacefully across Central America's most-populous country, but on Monday one person died and four people were injured during clashes in the western town of Malacatan.

A government statement said some 50 people carrying firearms, wooden planks and stones, tried to dissolve a protest in Malacatan, and 11 people were detained for their role in the violence.

"We treated four injured and one more person who died at the scene, all attacked with firearms... Protesters were attacked by an armed group," said Diego Calderon, an aid worker in Malacatan.

The identity of the assailants was not immediately clear.

Earlier on Monday, Guatemala's independent attorney general requested the dismissal of Interior Minister David Barrientos for failing to order security forces to open roads blockaded by the protesters.

Many of the protesters are demanding the removal of Attorney General Consuelo Porras, who critics accuse of using the power of her office to undermine Arevalo and aim to prevent him from taking office in January.

Interior Minister Barrientos wrote in his resignation letter to President Alejandro Giammattei that he led the ministry lawfully and while respecting human rights, but he was stepping down "faced with the complexity of the current situation that the country finds itself in."

Armed groups and police have been clearing some protests in recent days, sparking so far mostly isolated incidents of violence in different parts of the country.

© Reuters. A man pours a liquid on a burning barricade, as part of a national strike to demand the resignation of authorities from the attorney general's office, in Guatemala City, Guatemala October 10, 2023. REUTERS/Josue Decavele/File Photo

Arevalo backed the protesters in a message on social media.

"We demand that authorities ensure the safety of those who peacefully protest," president-elect Arevalo wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

(Report by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Valentine Hilaire; Editing by David Alire Garcia, Shri Navaratnam & Simon Cameron-Moore)

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