Guatemala interior minister resigns amid political crisis

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GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemala's interior minister and three other Cabinet officials stepped down Thursday amid a growing political crisis over corruption scandals that have prompted calls for President Otto Perez Molina and others close to him to resign.

Mauricio Lopez Bonilla, a former army lieutenant colonel who has been head of the Interior Ministry since Perez Molina took office in 2012, decided to leave office amid questions over some contracts, the president said.

"The minister told me he would prefer not to remain entrenched but would instead come out, show his face and be able to confront any situation that could happen," Perez Molina said at a news conference.

He named Eunice Mendizabal, currently vice minister for anti-narcotics affairs, to replace Lopez Bonilla.

Also out were Environment Minister Michel Martinez, who faces an investigation over the use of a liquid to clean the country's famed Lake Atitlan that turned out to be fraudulent; Edwin Rodas, who was named energy and mines minister just six days ago; and State Intelligence Secretary Ulises Anzueto.

"I asked for and accepted their resignations, and I'm making these changes because I consider it appropriate to do so," said Perez Molina.

He rejected suggestions that his government was breaking up, calling them "unfounded rumors."

Lopez Bonilla is a close Perez Molina ally who served as his campaign chief and is a top official in the ruling Patriotic Party.

Human rights activists contend abuses rose during Lopez Bonilla's watch, especially in the countryside and related to the protection of business interests.

Prosecutors have not linked Lopez Bonilla to a recent multimillion-dollar customs corruption and fraud scandal that led to the resignation of Perez Molina's vice president.

Former Vice President Roxana Baldetti has not been charged, but prosecutors allege her private secretary was the scheme's ringleader.

On Wednesday, authorities announced more than a dozen arrests in connection with a separate health care corruption case involving contracts to provide treatment and medicine to kidney patients.

The board of directors and president of the Social Security Institute and the president of the Bank of Guatemala are among the suspects in the second scandal.

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