Guatemalan civilians who support the ousting of President Otto Pérez Molina have formed a wall of bodies to let lawmakers into Congress, protecting them from presidential loyalists trying to prevent a vote on withdrawing the leader’s immunity from prosecution in a corruption scandal.
Dozens of Pérez Molina backers had blocked access to the capitol since the morning in an attempt to delay the proceedings, which are similar to impeachment and could lead to criminal charges. The interior department vice-minister Elmer Sosa also arrived with riot police to “guarantee the safety of protesters and congress”, and lawmakers were finally able to go inside.
“It was impressive that the people themselves came and created a human chain and a path so we could enter,” said opposition legislator Leonel Lira.
A commission of lawmakers has recommended that Pérez Molina’s immunity of office be withdrawn, and now the issue is before the full congress. A vote of 105 of the 158 representatives is required to approve the measure.
The president says he is not guilty of any wrongdoing and has refused mounting calls for his resignation by protesters, business groups and government officials.
The customs graft scandal has already claimed the job of his former vice-president Roxana Baldetti, who is in jail awaiting trial on charges that she accepted millions in bribes in return for letting others avoid import duties. A number of cabinet officials have also left office.
Edgar Pereira, a member of a civic group called the Social Humanist Movement, was on the frontline of people protecting the lawmakers.
“The people have to come to congress to guarantee that the session takes place,” Pereira said. “We cannot allow manoeuvring and manipulation by the president to keep it from meeting.”
Pérez Molina has repeatedly said he is willing to face the process against him.
Government agents have had to step in on several occasions to keep backers and critics of the president away from each other.
“The congress needs to meet to tackle the most important matters for the country,” the US embassy in Guatemala said via Twitter. “We hope that congress meets today as scheduled.”