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Guatemala Prosecutors Eye President in Children's Home Fire Probe

  • Associated Press

An ambulance carrying the bodies of those killed in the fire exits the Virgen de Asuncion home, in San Jose Pinula, on the outskirts of Guatemala City, Guatemala, March 8, 2017.

Guatemalan prosecutors will seek to have President Jimmy Morales' immunity of office lifted in order to investigate him in connection with a children's home fire that killed 41 girls, authorities said Monday.

Mayra Veliz, general-secretary of the Public Ministry, said the measure originated with two opposition lawmakers who argue that the president may share responsibility for the blaze since officials detained in the case answered to him.

Under Guatemalan law, as president Morales enjoys immunity from criminal investigation or prosecution unless that protection is withdrawn.

Prosecutors will present the petition to the Supreme Court, Veliz said at a news conference on the same day authorities arrested five more officials on charges related to the March 8 fire.

Prosecutors' spokeswoman Julia Barrera said those arrested Monday included Gloria Patricia Castro Gutierrez and Harold Augusto Flores Valenzuela, both of the childhood and adolescence prosecutor's office. They face charges of manslaughter, mistreatment of minors and breach of duty.

Marta Lidia Garcia, center, cries during the wake of her 17-year-old daughter Siona Hernandez, who died in a youth shelter fire, in Ciudad Peronia, Guatemala, March 10, 2017.
Marta Lidia Garcia, center, cries during the wake of her 17-year-old daughter Siona Hernandez, who died in a youth shelter fire, in Ciudad Peronia, Guatemala, March 10, 2017.

The girls were apparently locked inside a room after a previous escape attempt when the blaze broke out at the state-run home for troubled youth. Investigators believe one or more of the girls lit a mattress on fire inside the room and it quickly spread.

The home outside the capital had a history of abuse and at least twice had been ordered to close.

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