March 8, 2004

Clash at Guatemala ex-dictator's court appearance

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala (Reuters) -- A court appearance by former Guatemalan
dictator Efrain Rios Montt resulted in angry scenes on Monday when the retired
general's supporters clashed with journalists.

Rios Montt was in court to answer charges of manslaughter following the
death of a radio journalist during violent Guatemala City protests last July.

After hearing Rios Montt's testimony, Judge Victor Hugo Herrera banned him
from leaving the country pending an investigation of his role in the protests,
organized in support of his campaign for presidency in elections last November.

Rios Montt, 77, is also under investigation for genocide charges
brought by survivors of hundreds of army-led massacres in Maya Indian
villages during his 1982-1983 de facto rule at the height of the Central
American nation's 36-year civil war.

"This is a historic day. He committed genocide and caused so many deaths,
but look at the old man now, he is scared," said prosecution lawyer Walter

Tempers in the court flared when senior members of Rios Montt's Guatemalan
Republican Front, including his daughter Zury Rios who accompanied him, were
ordered to remain outside with reporters.

As the two groups heckled each other, the politicians tried to stop pictures
being taken and at least one punch was thrown, witnesses said.

Rios Montt was defeated in the November elections that ended four years of
Guatemalan Republican Front rule under populist former President Alfonso
Portillo, marked by corruption, human rights scandals and frequent
confrontation with the press.

The new government, headed by conservative businessman Oscar Berger, took
power in January and immediately started a campaign against public officials
associated with the front.

Portillo left the country two weeks ago for Mexico while under investigation for
suspected money laundering. Several other officials have since been fired or
have fled the country pending corruption investigations.

Copyright 2004 Reuters.