Thousands of Guatemalans demanded the resignation of President Jimmy Morales as families buried their teenage daughters who were burnt to death in a fire in a state-run home for abused children. Rough cut (no reporter narration)
ROUGH CUT. NO REPORTER NARRATION. Tempers and tears punctuated the air in Guatemala as thousands took to the streets on Saturday (March 11) to demand that President Jimmy Morales step down following a deadly fire at a shelter for abused teens, even as grieving families buried the victims. Angry protesters crowded in front of the national palace, waving flags and posters while chanting against the administration. At least 39 girls were killed last week when a fire tore through the Virgen de la Asuncion shelter for abused teens. Authorities reported that the blaze began when the shelter staff locked 52 girls in a classroom after they had tried to run away. Police and witnesses say the fire appeared to have been started by one of the girls, who set light to a mattress in the room, possibly as a protest after hours inside. But protesters beating on drums, accused the state of allowing the girls to die after they had reported abuse at the home and incidents of rape, beatings and being fed rotten food. Morales, a former comedian who has been in office for one year, sacked the director of the home, temporarily closed the center, declared three days of mourning and vowed to reform a childcare system that experts say is critically underfunded. That did little to quell the anger on Saturday. Throughout the city, poignant funerals were held for the victims, whose processions to the humble General Cemetery were sometimes punctuated by people holding posters, demanding justice. Guatemala has Latin America's worst rates of child malnutrition. Street gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha prey on minors. And, the Central American nation's public institutions are underfunded, racked by corruption and widespread overcrowding. The situation has contributed to the exodus of at least 67,000 Guatemalan children to the United States since 2013. Saturday's protest comes just days after thousands marched against government corruption, calling for Morales' resignation amid a graft investigation linked to his brother and elder son.