Guatemala seeks OAS support after violent protests over budget

·1 min read
Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest to demand the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei, a day after protesters set fire to a part of the Congress building in Guatemala City
Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest to demand the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei, a day after protesters set fire to a part of the Congress building in Guatemala City

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemala's government said on Sunday it has requested assistance from the Organization of American States (OAS) to help launch a dialogue with "diverse political forces" after a massive protest over 2021 budget cuts turned violent.

Several thousands of people took to the streets of Guatemala's capital on Saturday to urge President Alejandro Giammattei to veto the 2021 budget, which will cut funding for healthcare, education and human rights just as the country grapples with the aftermath of two major storms and COVID-19.

Most protestors demonstrated peacefully, but one group torched rooms inside the Congress and others clashed with police, who used tear gas to dispel crowds. Thirty-six people were arrested, and at least a dozen people were taken to hospitals to be treated for injuries.

"The president expresses his most absolute openness to an inclusive dialogue that will allow an understanding among all sectors of national life," Guatemala's government said in a statement.

It said authorities were working on measures that will "promote dialogue among diverse political forces."

Guatemala's call for OAS assistance under the Inter-American Democratic Charter (IDC) came after the organisation urged dialogue over the 2021 budget that would take into account the COVID-19 crisis and two recent hurricanes.

The government's statement said violence did not represent a legitimate form of expression, and had left authorities "no other path than to turn to the international community."

The G13 group of countries and institutions that provide aid to Guatemala, including the United States, has called for an investigation into Saturday's events.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu, Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)