Guatemalan congressman gunned down by two men

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GUATEMALA CITY (AP) – Gunmen on a motorcycle killed an opposition congressman as he stepped out of his party’s headquarters Thursday, several blocks from where the president was launching a plan to put 2,400 ex-soldiers on the streets to back up police.

President Oscar Berger lamented the death of Congressman Mario Pivaral, but said “we have to wait for the results of the investigation to find who is responsible.”

Pivaral was shot by two men riding by on a motorcycle just as left party offices to answer a cell phone call, Police Commissioner Edgar Orellana quoted witnesses as saying.

The killers had been lying in wait for him, fellow National Union Congressman Edgar Rodriguez told The Associated Press. “They followed him from the Congress and were waiting for him here,” said Rodriguez, who was visibly upset.

The party’s general secretary, Eduardo Meyer, suggested Pivaral’s killing was politically motivated.

“The fact that they killed him in front of the party (headquarters) is a very clear message on the eve of the elections,” Meyer said. Guatemalans will go to the polls in 2007 to elect a president, congressional representatives and mayors.

Pivaral is the second congressman to be assassinated during the present Legislature, whose session began in 2004 and ends in 2008. National Union Congressman Hipolito Miralda was killed in 2004 by unidentified assailants as he was leaving his house outside the capital. The crime was never solved.

Party President Angel Arce said 90 party members had been expected to arrive at the headquarters from Pivaral’s home province of Alta Verapaz to protest recent party appointments. But Meyer ruled out any connection between that and the congressman’s death.

National Union party members draped a towel over Pivaral’s body, which lay on the sidewalk as hundreds of curious onlookers gathered and rival party leaders arrived to offer their condolences.

Before his election to Congress, Pivaral became well known in Alta Verapaz for his work as a doctor and salsa singer. He recorded five compact discs, including a solo recording in 2004.

According to the most recent government statistics, more than 4,800 people died from a violent crime in 2005, including more than 3,800 who were shot to death.

“It’s ironic that the president is inaugurating a safety plan while a few blocks away they are killing our congressman,” Meyer said.

AP-ES-04-06-06 1720EDT

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