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Guatemalans protest president, attorney general

Indigenous Mayor Jose Tax Sapon, at center wrapped in a white flag, and neighbors pose for a portrait as they block the Inter American Highway in Totonicapan, Guatemala, after Indigenous leaders here called for a nationwide strike to pressure Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei to resign, Thursday, July 29, 2021. The protest comes in response to the firing of Special Prosecutor Against Impunity Juan Francisco Sandoval by Attorney General Consuelo Porras. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Thousands of Guatemalans took to the streets in protest Thursday, blocking highways and calling for a national strike over the government’s apparent unwillingness to tackle corruption.

Pressure has been building since Attorney General Consuelo Porras fired anti-corruption special prosecutor Juan Francisco Sandoval on July 23. In response, the United States government this week said that it had lost confidence in Guatemala’s commitment to battling corruption and was temporarily suspending cooperation with Porras’ office.

President Alejandro Giammattei has previously spoken of his friendship with Porras, who was appointed by his predecessor, President Jimmy Morales.

Singing the national anthem, some 10,000 people blocked one of the country’s main highways early Thursday. Organizations representing Indigenous Guatemalans, farmworkers, students and professionals have said they will join a national work stoppage.

In front of the presidential offices, Daniel Pascual, director of the Farmworker Unity Committee, said that protests had been registered in at least 90 sites around the country.

Mario Menchú, president of the 14 Communities of San Cristóbal Totonicapán, said protesters demanded Porras’ resignation. He also complained that Giammattei had not followed through on promised structural improvements in the country.

Protests were taking place across Guatemala, including outside the Attorney General’s Office, which issued a statement saying it “respects the right to protest and the right of freedom of expression.”

Laura Aguiar, secretary general of the Oliverio Castañeda de León Students Association at San Carlos University, said her group demanded that both Porras and the president resign, accusing officials of failing to call out corruption.

Some business associations condemned the blockades as illegal.

Sandoval said after his firing that as his investigations got closer to Giammattei and members of his cabinet, Porras made efforts to block him. Porras said she fired him because his investigations were ideologically biased.

Sandoval’s office was a critical remaining piece of Guatemala’s anti-corruption efforts. In 2019, the Morales forced out the United Nations’ anti-corruption mission, which had worked closely with Sandoval’s office to dismantle graft networks.

On Thursday, Giammattei expressed his concern that the suspension in U.S. cooperation would be “counterproductive” because it would affect the countries’ common goals of fighting organized crime and corruption. He said he had asked the finance minister to look for budget support and called on “friendly countries” to help keep efforts from being diminished.

Eleven opposition lawmakers sent a letter to Porras asking her to resign over Sandoval’s firing. “You are no longer independent nor ideal to continue in the position,” the letter said.