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Guatemala murder scandal could threaten the presidency

Accusations that President Alvaro Colom helped orchestrate the murder of a prominent lawyer continue to intensify – deepening divisions in a country still recovering from a 36-year civil war.

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Although Rosenberg mentions documents to support his claims, they have not surfaced. "We know nothing about any documents that he was talking about," says Rosenberg's nephew Andres Rodas. "He kept the family out of it because he did not want to put us in danger."

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Colom – as well as the three others named in the video – has repeatedly denied the accusations and said that he has no reason to step down, even temporarily.

But, if the scandal escalates, it could threaten to undermine his presidency, says Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a left-leaning think tank in Washington. "He is in real trouble right now," says Mr. Birns. "The case against him is very formidable, and he hasn't attempted to come forth with an explanation that fair-minded people could see as a possibility. There is no explanation for why someone would commit suicide to get back at him."

Dueling protests reveal 'two Guatemalas'

Demonstrators took to the street daily last week to call for Colom to step down. They dressed in white and carried signs calling Colom an "assassin."

The protests were organized by wealthy and middle-class Guatemalans and students from the city's right-leaning private universities. One of the organizers, Javier Ogarrio, says that Rosenberg was acting in the interest of the country.

"We have lived with so much violence and corruption here," Mr. Ogarrio says. "We have to continue what he started."

The poor and mostly indigenous rural population forms the base of Colom's political support – and many have come out in protest to support him. "He is the only president that has given us anything, and they don't like that," said local resident Julieta Espinoza at a rally last week. "These are all lies against him."

Allegations threaten to further polarize the country. "What you see are the two classes in distinctly different demonstrations," says Anita Isaacs, a professor of political science at Haverford College in Pennsylvania who was in Guatemala City to observe the protests. "This has exposed the rift between the two Guatemalas."

The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a United Nations-backed body formed to probe the country's growing organized crime problem, has been asked to investigate. The FBI will also investigate.