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Thousands protest graft in Guatemala, raising pressure on president

Thousands gathered in the main square of Guatemala`s capital on Saturday to protest against corruption after a wave of graft scandals prompted a Cabinet shake-up and the resignation of the vice president.

Guatemala city: Thousands gathered in the main square of Guatemala`s capital on Saturday to protest against corruption after a wave of graft scandals prompted a Cabinet shake-up and the resignation of the vice president.

Many of the demonstrators` placards called for President Otto Perez to also step down; others urged a crackdown on political corruption and crime - demands echoed in similar protests in other Guatemalan cities.

"We don`t want Otto Perez in power any more," said dentist Otto Chojolan amid the crowd in Constitution Square. "They`ve stolen so much money, and that`s why I`ve come to protest - it`s important the politicians know we are unhappy." 

Anti-corruption protests have grown in recent weeks as arrests of officials for graft drove Perez last week to dismiss the interior, energy and environment ministers and the country`s intelligence chief among other senior officials. 

The day before the reshuffle, Guatemala`s central bank chief Julio Suarez and 14 other people were arrested, accused of rigging a multi-million dollar contract from the country`s Social Security Institute in favor of a pharmaceutical firm.

And earlier in May, Vice President Roxana Baldetti stepped down after accusations that she had been linked to a ring accused of taking bribes to avoid customs taxes. 

The corruption scandals have buffeted Perez`s conservative Patriot Party ahead of presidential elections in September. Perez is barred from re-election, but he has repeatedly said he will not step before the end of his term.