Accused of involvement in murder, president seeks outside probe

President Alvaro Colom has said he is seeking help from foreign experts to investigate the murder of a lawyer who left a videotape accusing the Guatemalan leader of ordering the killing.


AFP - President Alvaro Colom said Tuesday he is seeking help from foreign experts to investigate the murder of a lawyer who left a videotape accusing the Guatemalan leader of ordering the killing.

In footage widely viewed in Guatemala, lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg, seen seated at a desk speaking into a microphone, accused Colom of ordering his assassination.

Rosenberg, 48, was fatally shot Sunday while riding his bicycle through a fashionable section of Guatemala City.

Guatemalan indigenous leader and 1992 Nobel Peace award winner Rigoberta Menchu urged Colom in a letter to guarantee that the investigation into Rosenberg's death was handled independently.

Colom, a center-left social democrat whose policies have rattled the country's conservative elite, told reporters Tuesday that he asked US Ambassador Stephen McFarlan for FBI investigators to help.

"The death of attorney Rosenberg has been used by political opportunists and traditional conspirators linked to organized crime to confuse public opinion and attack the top authorities," Colom said.

He vigorously denied involvement in Rosenberg's death. Officials say the video -- which has been posted on the websites of two national newspapers and on YouTube -- is part of an orchestrated effort by Colom's enemies to destabilize his administration.

"If at this moment you are hearing or watching this message, it is because Alvaro Colom assassinated me," Rosenberg says in the 18-minute tape.

Rosenberg names Colom's wife Sandra and Gustavo Alejos, the president's private secretary, as co-conspirators.

The video includes "all the attacks against this government since we took office," said Colom. "I'm not a thug or a drug lord."

The president also denied knowing the slain lawyer or "what motivated Mr Rosenberg to record that video."

Rosenberg represented Khalil Musa, 74, a leading Guatemalan industrialist slain in a hail of bullets along with his adult daughter Marjorie on April 15.

Colom reiterated that the Rosenberg video and the murder were a reaction to his crackdown on organized crime.

Hundreds of protesters, including friends and relatives of Rosenberg, marched downtown to the chants of "Assassin!" and "Justice for the victims!" then sang the national anthem outside the presidential residence.

An hour later a crowd of Colom supporters arrived. "This is a government that looks after the poor!" the supporters cried out, trading insults with the protesters. Police kept the two groups separate.

Two hundred and fifty of the country's 331 municipal mayors also offered their support for the embattled president.

Mario David Garcia, a controversial conservative journalist, said late Tuesday in his radio show that he recorded the Rosenberg video, adding that the slain attorney had ample proof of the government's involvement in the killing.

Guatemala, which has a population of around 13 million, is in the midst of a crime wave that sees an average of 17 people slain every day, one of the highest rates in Latin America.

Some 98 percent of criminal cases in Guatemala go unsolved, according to the UN-supported International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

Guatemala is also still recovering from the effects of the 1960-1996 civil war, in which leftist insurgents battled the country's armed forces, often under the leadership of deeply conservative officers that engaged in scorched earth tactics.

Some 200,000 people were killed in violence during that period, according to human rights groups.

Like many Central American countries, Guatemala is used as both a bridge and a storage spot by illegal drug cartels transporting cocaine from South America to markets in the United States and Europe.

Colom, who took office in January 2008, is the first social democratic president elected since Jacobo Arbenz, who was toppled in a CIA-organized coup in 1954.

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