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After 8 days of peaceful protests in Guatemala, demonstrations turn violent

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The capital city of Guatemala came to a standstill yesterday. Protesters blocked roads and closed shops to object to an apparent government attempt to overturn the recent presidential election. Here's NPR's Eyder Peralta.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORNS HONKING)

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: With tires and sticks and rocks and a thin rope, protesters blocked one of Guatemala City's main highways. The police tried to convince them to leave one lane open, but they refuse. One man says blocking this road is not a crime.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

(APPLAUSE)

PERALTA: "The crime is by the president," he said, "who is trying to steal the hopes and dreams of many Guatemalans."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PERALTA: Across the city, we talked to many urban dwellers who had never protested. For the past week, they've watched the Indigenous communities in the highlands of the country block roads in an act of anger after the attorney general's office raided the electoral commission. And they were inspired. Maria Juana Cap, a housewife, says she's defending the landslide win of an anti-corruption candidate. She's defending democracy for her children.

MARIA JUANA CAP: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: "And we're leaving them a lesson," she says. "Stand up for yourself, or a government will step all over you." This is the most sustained protest in Guatemala in recent memory. It's brought the urban population closer to the marginalized Indigenous population.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORN HONKING)

PERALTA: But as night fell and a light rain started, eight days of peaceful protests turned violent.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF FIRING TEAR GAS)

PERALTA: Police have fired tear gas against protesters right here outside of the presidential palace. And some masked men have started throwing rocks against windows here. What had been calls for change and calls for hope have now given way to the sounds of destruction. The protesters said the rioters were infiltrators. But in the late night speech, outgoing Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei called the protesters violent and the blockades illegal and vowed to put an end to them.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Guatemala City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MASERATI'S "KALINICHTA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.