Guatemala Congress on Fire After Protesters Storm Building

Hundreds of anti-government protesters in Guatemala have vandalised and set fire to parts of the Congress building, before being dispersed by riot police, BBC reports.

The building in Guatemala City was empty at the time of Saturday’s attack, which lasted for about 10 minutes. The fire services put the fire out, but several people were treated for the effects of smoke inhalation.

Police used tear gas and batons to push demonstrators back, attacking not only about 1,000 demonstrators in front of congress but also a much larger protest in front of the country’s National Palace. Some protesters also damaged bus stations.

The protesters are opposed to a budget approved by Congress of the Central American country on Wednesday night.

The opposition says the budget prioritises big infrastructure projects to be handled by companies with government connections and overlooks the social and economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. They are also angered by what they describe as major cuts to education and health spending.

Another key complaints is that the budget was passed by parliament while the rest of the country was distracted by the after-effects of two damaging storms, Eta and Iota. The protesters are now pressing for President Alejandro Giammattei to resign.

The bulk of Saturday’s demonstrations, which some observers said were the biggest yet against the budget, were peaceful.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has condemned what it called an “excessive use of force” by police in Guatemala against demonstrators opposed to a new budget that slashes social spending, while the government called fires set by protesters at congress “terrorist acts”.

The IACHR wrote on Twitter on Sunday that it “condemns the excessive use of force by authorities against demonstrators” but also asked for an investigation into “the acts of vandalism against Congress, after which State agents indiscriminately suppressed the protest.”

It said governments “must respect peaceful demonstration,” but when faced with violence, they “must identify persons — protesters or third parties — who risk rights or infringe State property. ”