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Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 18:29 GMT
Former Guatemala head loses immunity
Guatemala City
In Guatemala, the case has been dubbed "Guategate"
Guatemala's Supreme Court has stripped the former military ruler and current president of Congress, General Efrain Rios Montt, of his immunity from prosecution.

The move also applies to 23 legislators from the ruling Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) who, together with General Rios Montt, will be investigated for abuse of power, obstruction of justice and violation of the constitution.

Opposition leader Leonel Lopez has accused them of illegally altering the published version of a law concerning the taxation of alcoholic beverages approved in June.

Human rights groups also accuse General Rios Montt of ordering the killing of thousands of Mayan Indians during Guatemala's 36-year civil war. But correspondents say the Supreme Court ruling does not allow him to be tried for those alleged abuses.

'Guategate'

Mr Rios Montt, who ruled Guatemala with an iron fist from 1982 to 1983, was sworn in as president of Congress in January last year amid great controversy.

Efrain Rios Montt
Human rights groups also want Rios Montt to be tried
Some eight months later he found himself at the centre of a political scandal labelled "Guategate" by many in the country.

The taxation law for alcoholic drinks was passed by Congress on 27 June. But when it went into effect on 1 August, the opposition said the law was a different one.

According to Mr Lopez, the FRG deputies had unilaterally slashed the tax by up to 50%.

The opposition says that as soon they denounced the illegal changes to the law, congressional records of the 27 June meeting disappeared, while other documents were falsified.

These charges will now be investigated by a special judge appointed by the Supreme Court.

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See also:

07 Mar 01 | Americas
Guatemala steps out of military past
10 Aug 00 | Americas
Guatemala admits state killing role
27 Dec 99 | Americas
Guatemala votes for 'killer'
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