Guatemala’s Arevalo says state using violence to counter protests, warns of possible ‘siege’

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) -Guatemala’s president-elect Bernardo Arevalo said on Monday the government is using violence to counter protests and create tension which could be used as an excuse for declaring a state of “siege,” even as the government announced tighter measures.

Ongoing protests entered their eighth straight day on Monday, with Guatemalans taking to the streets to demand the resignation of authorities from the attorney general’s office, which has faced international accusations of trying to undermine Arevalo’s landslide electoral victory in August.

The attorney general’s office has conducted raids on the buildings of electoral authorities and Arevalo’s Semilla party headquarters and has moved to suspend the party.

Classes were suspended in the capital on Monday amid the protests, and in neighboring El Salvador, authorities said they would help Guatemalan aircraft fill their tanks after fuel shortages caused by the blockades.

The head of the Organization of American States (OAS) said last week he accepted an invitation to mediate between Guatemalan officials and street protesters seeking an orderly transfer of power to Arevalo.

Late on Monday, outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei said on national TV the country would no longer tolerate street blockades, which he called illegal.

Giammattei added that his administration had gathered evidence showing funds had been transferred from abroad to local NGOs to maintain the blockades, and that authorities would be requesting arrest warrants.

“Many of the blockades in the west of the country have counted on the participation and assistance of foreigners,” he said.

He also called on Arevalo to meet with OAS mediators to ensure a peaceful handover on Jan. 14.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Additional reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Valentine Hilaire and Sarah Morland; Editing by Brendan O’Boyle and Stephen Coates)