Amid rising protests against President Alejandro Giammattei and the legislature for approving a controversial budget that cuts education and health spending, hundreds of demonstrators broke into Guatemala's Congress and burned part of the building on Saturday.
The incident came when about 10,000 people were demonstrating against corruption and the budget in front of the National Palace in Guatemala City, which demonstrators say was negotiated and secretly passed by lawmakers while the Central American country was distracted by the fallout of back-to-back hurricanes and the pandemic of Covid-19.
Outside the Congress house, some 1,000 demonstrators were protesting.
Video on social media shows the fire in the legislative building shot out of a window. Tear gas was shot at demonstrators by police and around a dozen people were reported injured.
Rosa de Chavarria, professor of psychology, said, "We are outraged by poverty, injustice, the way they have stolen money from the public."
"I feel like we are being stolen from the future. We don't see any changes, we can't stay that way," said Mauricio Ramirez, a 20-year-old college student.
The amount of damage to the building was unknown, but the flames seemed to have targeted legislative offices first rather than the main congress hall.
Protesters have set fire to several bus stations.
On Saturday, Mr. Giammattei condemned the fires on his Twitter account, writing: "Anyone who has been found to be involved in illegal activities will be prosecuted with the full force of the law."
He wrote that he defended the right of people to demonstrate, "but we can't let people vandalize public or private property either."
In order to present adjustments to the contentious budget, the President said he had been consulting with different organizations.
Discontent was building on social media over the 2021 budget and clashes erupted during Friday's demonstrations.
Guatemalans were angry after lawmakers accepted $65,000 (£48,750) to pay for meals on their own, but reduced support, among other items, for coronavirus patients and human rights organizations.
Recent measures by the Supreme Court and the attorney general, which they saw as efforts to weaken the fight against corruption, have angered demonstrators.
Vice President Guillermo Castillo offered to resign, telling Mr. Giammattei that for the good of the country," both men should resign their positions.
He also proposed vetoing the approved budget, firing government officials, and seeking to penetrate different industries across the world more broadly.
Mr. Giammattei had not reacted to that proposal publicly and Mr. Castillo did not express the reaction of the President to his proposal. Mr. Castillo said he was not going to resign on his own.
Before dawn on Wednesday, the spending bill was discussed in secret and approved by Congress.
It also occurred when the nation was distracted by the Eta and Iota hurricanes, which brought torrential rains to most of Central America.
Mr. Giammattei was also called on by the Roman Catholic Church leadership in Guatemala to veto the budget on Friday.
Jordan 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 humanitarian assistance."