Hundreds of protesters broke into Guatemala's Congress and burned part of the building amid growing demonstrations against President Alejandro Giammattei and the legislature for approving a controversial budget that cut educational and health spending.
The incident 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.
About 1,000 protesters were demonstrating outside the Congress building. Video on social media showed flames shooting out a window in the legislative building. Police fired tear gas at protestors, and about a dozen people were reported injured. "We are outraged by poverty, injustice, the way they have stolen the public's money," said psychology professor Rosa de Chavarría.
"I feel like the future is being stolen from us. We don't see any changes, this cannot continue like this," said Mauricio Ramírez, a 20-year-old university student.
The amount of damage to the building was unclear, but the flames initially appear to have affected legislative offices, rather than the main hall of congress. Protesters also set some bus stations on fire.
Giammattei condemned the fires on his Twitter account. "Anyone who is proven to have participated in the criminal acts will be punished with the full force of the law." He wrote that he defended people's right to protest, "but neither can we allow people to vandalize public or private property."
Discontent had been building over the 2021 budget on social media and clashes erupted during demonstrations on Friday. Guatemalans were angered because lawmakers approved $65,000 to pay for meals for themselves, but cut funding for coronavirus patients and human rights agencies, among other things. Protesters were also upset by recent moves by the Supreme Court and Attorney General they saw as attempts to undermine the fight against corruption.