Guatemala crisis talks open as anti-government protests continue

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Guatemala's embattled government opened talks on a revised budget on Tuesday, after days of protests forced Congress to back off from approving a business-friendly spending plan backed by President Alejandro Giammattei.

"The objective of the meeting is to hear proposals from associations, research centers and academia for a readjustment of the budget," according to the meeting's agenda.

Giammattei, elected last year, is under pressure to resign after thousands of people demonstrated in the capital, angered by a budget they said entrenched glaring economic inequalities by favoring the private sector over health and education funding.

Protesters set the Congress building ablaze on Saturday, sparking a robust police crackdown which has been criticized by right groups.

Opponents of the government said the budget -- at nearly $13 billion, the biggest in the history of the state -- did little to ease the plight of the country's poor, who make up nearly 60 percent of the population of 17 million.

Giammattei, 64, was leading the discussions along with Finance Minister Alvaro Gonzalez and other officials.

Business leaders, evangelical churches and representatives of the University of San Carlos, the country's only state-run university, were also attending the talks in Guatemala City.

Protests continued Tuesday as Guatemala's indigenous leaders gathered in front of the presidential residence to demand that Giammattei and his cabinet resign.

The leaders said in a statement that the protest was to "reject acts of corruption, demand the resignation of the president, the resignation of the deputies and the closing of the Center of Government."

The Center of Government is a super-ministry created by Giammattei and headed by a close associate of the president.


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