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Last Updated: Friday, 25 July, 2003, 01:11 GMT 02:11 UK
Guatemala City hit by riot
Rally by Rios Montt supporters
Thousands of Rios Montt supporters ran riot in the capital
There have been violent protests in the capital of Guatemala in support of former strongman Efrain Rios Montt, who has been barred from standing for president.

A journalist is reported to have died of a heart attack after being chased by protestors.

President Alfonso Portillo has ordered the army to restore order.

Mr Rios Montt - who ruled in the early 1980s, following a military coup - is appealing against a court ruling banning him from seeking the presidency in November's election.

Thousands of his supporters - some waving machetes and clubs - surrounded the United States embassy and the country's two highest courts on Thursday.

Demonstrators smashed windows, burned cars, blocked traffic and chased reporters covering the protest.

I will not permit any political movement to disrupt public order
President Alfonso Portillo
Television reporter Hector Ramirez, 65, is said to have collapsed and died while fleeing a crowd at the start of the demonstration.

The violence prompted President Portillo to order soldiers onto the streets of Guatemala city.

"I will not permit any political movement to disrupt public order," Mr Portillo said.

Many of the protesters demonstrated outside the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court - which have both upheld a ban on his candidacy in November's election.

"From now on, we will not rest until the general is allowed to run for president," a protester said.

Controversial candidate

Mr Rios Montt, 77, was banned from standing in 1990 and 1995 because Guatemala's 1985 constitution bars former coup leaders from seeking the presidency.

Rios Montt
The retired general insists he should be allowed to stand
However Mr Rios Montt's lawyers have argued that the 1985 constitution cannot be applied retroactively.

A retired brigadier general, he took power in a military coup in March 1982 and was overthrown 18 months later.

He founded the Guatemalan Republican Front, which controls the presidency and dominates Congress.

Human rights groups say thousands of civilians died under his rule.

The US State Department has said it would be difficult for Washington to have a normal relationship with Guatemala if Mr Rios Montt was elected.

He now parliamentary speaker.


SEE ALSO:
Guatemala general blocked again
21 Jul 03  |  Americas
Guatemala coup leader defies ban
08 Jun 03  |  Americas
Country profile: Guatemala
23 May 03  |  Country profiles
Guatemala coup leader to stand
25 May 03  |  Americas


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