0416 GMT November 29, 2020
The incident on Saturday came as about 10,000 people were protesting in front of the National Palace in Guatemala City against corruption and the budget, which protesters say was negotiated and passed by legislators in secret while the Central American country was distracted by the fallout of back-to-back hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic, theguardian.com wrote.
About 1,000 protesters were demonstrating outside the Congress building.
Video on social media showed flames coming out of a window in the legislative building. Police fired teargas at protesters, and about a dozen people were reported injured.
The amount of damage to the building was unclear, but the fire appeared to have affected legislative offices rather than the main hall of Congress. Protesters also set bus stations on fire.
Giammattei condemned the incidents via Twitter on Saturday, saying, “Anyone who is proven to have participated in the criminal acts will be punished with the full force of the law.”
He said he defended people’s right to protest, “but neither can we allow people to vandalize public or private property”.
The president said he had been meeting various groups to present changes to the controversial budget.
Discontent had been building on social media over the 2021 budget and clashes erupted during demonstrations on Friday. Guatemalans were angered because legislators approved almost £50,000 to pay for meals for themselves, but cut funding for coronavirus patients and human rights agencies.
Protesters were also upset by recent moves by the supreme court and attorney general they saw as attempts to undermine the fight against corruption.
The vice president, Guillermo Castillo, has offered to step down, telling Giammattei that both men should resign “for the good of the country”. He also suggested vetoing the approved budget, firing government officials and reaching out more to various sectors around the country.
Giammattei had not responded publicly to that proposal and Castillo did not share the president’s reaction to his proposal. Castillo said he would not resign alone.
The spending plan was negotiated in secret and approved by Congress before dawn on Wednesday. It also passed while the country was recovering from hurricanes Eta and Iota, which brought torrential rains to much of Central America.
The Roman Catholic church leadership in Guatemala called on Friday for Giammattei to veto the budget.
Jordán Rodas, the country’s human rights prosecutor, said, “It was a devious blow to the people because Guatemala was between natural disasters; there are signs of government corruption, clientelism in the humanitarian aid.”
In 2015, mass streets protests against corruption led to the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina, his vice president, Roxana Baldetti, and members of his cabinet. The former president and Baldetti are in jail awaiting trials in various corruption cases.
OLIVER DE ROS/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Protesters set the building that houses Guatemala’s Congress on fire in Guatemala City, Guatemala, on November 21, 2020.