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Protesters Gather in Guatemala City - 2002-03-13

Protesters are gearing up for a demonstration in front of Guatemala's presidential palace as the government weathers its worst political crisis to date. The protests come on the heels of a series of scandals and increasing social tension.

Reacting to recent allegations that President Alfonso Portillo, his vice president and other high ranking government officials opened 13 bank accounts in Panama, various organizations are taking to the streets in protest. They are demanding that the president and his vice president give up their immunity from prosecution.

President Portillo has denied having any accounts in Panama while his vice president says there is nothing illegal about his having accounts there.

The Panama scandal is considered the last straw in a nation many feel is becoming increasingly unstable. Since Portillo assumed office two years ago, the press has accused his administration of a series of corruption scandals involving millions of dollars from various government ministries and offices. In past weeks there were rumors of attempted uprisings at various military bases where officers were upset with announced shuffles in the high command.

Press reports have alleged military intelligence involvement in a recent kidnapping, after two members of the military were slain by undercover police officers allegedly staking-out a ransom pick-up.

Weeks before, a government printing office employee was murdered. He was one of the witnesses who alleged that the Vice President had ordered the government printing office to print defamatory fliers against one of the country's business leaders. The fliers appeared on the streets of Guatemala in August.

The recent scandals occur against a backdrop of heightened social tension. Famine is plaguing the countryside and landless peasants have staged a number of land takeovers in the past weeks.

Today's protests are the first in a series of planned demonstrations.