GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemalan riot police freed early Saturday lawmakers who had become stranded when protesters surrounded the congressional building for several hours.
Thousands of demonstrators held a marathon protest that began Friday morning and ended with around 200 police evacuating the legislative building in the wee hours of Saturday, Interior Minister Francisco Rivas told EFE at a police station where lawmakers, administrative personnel and journalists had been taken.
Rivas said the demonstrators had acted peacefully but that the riot police were forced to intervene because they had barred lawmakers from exiting the building.
The protesters were angry about a vote on Wednesday that made changes to the nation’s Criminal Code.
One of the modifications shielded party chiefs and candidates from any criminal responsibility for campaign-financing violations, while the other make prison sentences of up to 10 years for certain crimes – compared with five years previously – susceptible to commutation though payment of a fine.
Amid widespread criticism, court challenges and the threat of a veto by President Jimmy Morales, those same lawmakers voted 130-0 Friday to scrap the measures, but the protesters continued to surround the building to demand their resignation.
One lawmaker – Andrea Villagran – left the building on foot, apparently unrecognized by the protesters.
The evacuation began at around 11:30 pm Friday, with the riot police using tear gas to clear the area near the main entrance and bringing in buses and trucks to remove the 129 remaining legislators.
On Monday, Congress shielded Morales from prosecution for alleged illegal financing during his successful 2015 election campaign, a vote that came after a legislative committee had recommended that his immunity be stripped.
Guatemalan prosecutors and the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) had leveled the accusations against Morales, who rose to power on an anti-corruption platform.