Guatemala police chief, minister quit over murders

Mon Mar 26, 2007 9:54pm EDT

GUATEMALA CITY, March 26 (Reuters) - Guatemalan President Oscar Berger accepted the resignation of the country's police chief and interior minister on Monday after eight murders raised fears that senior officials were linked to drug gangs.

Three Salvadoran politicians and their driver were murdered on Feb. 19 in Guatemala. Days later, four police detectives who were arrested for the murders were shot in prison. Opposition politicians say the events show corrupt police are working with death squads in return for protection from drug gangs.

A government investigation of the murders is underway.

Interior Minister Carlos Vielmann and the national head of police, Erwin Sperisen, tendered their resignations earlier this month. On Monday, Berger said he reluctantly accepted their decision.

Vielmann is likely to stay in the post for a few more days until Berger, whose government has been stained by the election-year crisis, finds a replacement.

"We don't have a candidate right now, but we are going to speed up the process to find one as soon as possible," Berger told reporters.

Vielmann and Sperisen blame gang members inside the prison for the police detective's deaths, saying they used smuggled weapons and collaborated with guards to kill the policemen.

Berger said drug-trafficking rings in Guatemala and El Salvador were behind the deaths of the Salvadoran politicians.

The annual U.S. State Department human rights report released this month highlighted corruption in Guatemala's security forces, citing complaints of kidnappings, rapes and murders carried out by police in 2006.





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