Angry push for Guatemala president to resign in graft scandal

Guatemala City (AFP) - Thousands of Guatemalans waved flags, chanted and demanded that President Otto Perez resign, in a graft scandal that has already seen his vice president step down.

Shouting "Otto - Thief," "Get out, Otto" and "Resign - and now!" the demonstrators packed the capital's main square, chanting, singing, waving the blue and white national flag and setting off firecrackers.

Perez refused to resign earlier, just hours after he was accused of being a leader of the corruption scandal that has rocked his country, his spokesman said.

"The people are asking for the resignation of the most thieving government in history led by Otto Perez," said Jose Catalan, toting a banner that read "Resign already Otto your prison awaits."

Catalan said he wanted Perez out, and a transitional government named to serve out Perez's term which under the constitution ends January 14.

"While I am really happy that thief (ex-vice president Roxana) Baldetti has been captured, it is time for them to take the other robber -- President Perez -- to prison," added Ana Velasquez, a student at San Carlos University.

- Graft scandal hits home -

With just over two weeks to go to general elections, prosecutors and officials from a UN investigative commission said they had uncovered extensive evidence implicating Perez and Baldetti in a massive, highly organized scheme to reduce importers' customs duties in exchange for bribes.

Baldetti had resigned, and was then arrested Friday. Business leaders issued a call for Perez to stand down immediately.

Presidential spokesman Jorge Ortega told AFP that Perez had not resigned.

But several of his cabinet members -- on the heels of Friday's information -- gave their vote of no confidence by standing down themselves on Saturday.

Economy Minister Sergio de la Torre; Education Minister Cynthia Del Aguila; and Competitiveness Commissioner Juan Carlos Paiz, all stepped down voicing disappointment at Perez's alleged starring role in the graft.

The multimillion-dollar fraud case has upended Guatemalan politics since it erupted in April, felling numerous high-ranking officials, forcing Baldetti's resignation and now reaching the country's highest office.

"We have found the very regrettable participation of the president of the republic and Mrs Roxana Baldetti at every level of the organization" behind the corruption, said Ivan Velasquez of the UN commission.

The allegations come as Guatemala prepares for general elections on September 6.

Perez, a 64-year-old retired general and conservative whose term ends in January, cannot run for re-election.

On Friday, police arrested Baldetti, 53, at a private hospital where she had been undergoing treatment for gastrointestinal and heart problems. Her arrest came one day after investigators searched her home.

The judge in the case had already ordered her bank accounts frozen and slapped injunctions on 11 properties belonging to her and her husband.

Baldetti resigned as vice president on May 8 after one of her top aides, Juan Carlos Monzon, was accused of running the bribery scheme.

Monzon is still at large.

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