Assassination scare clouds papal visit

PHIL DAVISON

Latin America Correspondent

The Pope arrived in Guatemala City yesterday on his first visit to Central America in 13 years.

Escorted by two Guatemalan fighter jets, the pontiff's plane circled the skies of the capital before touching down at 4.25pm.

Security for the visit was heightened after what was reported as an assassination attempt against his host, President Alvaro Arzu.

The incident raised fears that someone - most fingers pointed to disgruntled Guatemalan military officers - wanted to disrupt the Pope's visit and might try again during his four nights in the capital, day trips to Nicaragua and El Salvador, or a weekend stop-over in Venezuela.

In a bizarre incident 24 hours before the Pope flew in, a milkman drove his pick-up truck into a group of horseback riders, including the newly- elected President, his wife and security men, outside the tourist town of Antigua, 30 miles west of the capital.

The milkman, named as 24-year-old Pedro Haroldo Sas, or Zas, was shot dead by bodyguards after repeatedly trying to drive into Mr Arzu and his horse, injuring one mounted bodyguard and ramming presidential vehicles, according to the official version. The President was unharmed.

The dead man's father insisted it had been nothing more than a traffic accident. "He was working, delivering milk. He had no weapon," he said.

The Interior Minister, Rodolfo Mendoza, said: "This could have been a crazy man but we are not ruling out anything." He added that extra security was in force to protect the Pope.

Foreign diplomats and local priests speculated that military officers, angered by Mr Arzu's dismissal of several hard-line officers since he took office last month, may have hired the milkman as a hitman. In the presidential election run-off, Mr Arzu, a 49-year- old businessman, defeated a candidate widely seen as a front for the former military dictator General Efrain Rios Montt, who was barred from running.

The general, who is also a Protestant evangelist, dedicated to converting Catholics, was in power during the Pope's last visit in 1983. He "welcomed" the pontiff by executing six left-wing suspects for whom the Pope had called for clemency.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Learning & Development Manager - North London - £53,000

£45000 - £53000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: Learning & Develo...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executive - Magazines

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's largest regional newspaper pub...

Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Publishing

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant - Oxford

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: As a successful and growing Security Installat...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn