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35 dead in youth shelter fire

GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemala’s President called for a restructuring of his country’s youth shelter system following a fire that killed at least 35 girls at an overcrowded government facility for children, while grieving families began receiving the bodies of their loved ones.

The shelter outside Guatemala City held some 800 children and mixed victims of abuse with youthful offenders.

Relatives and officials said Wednesday’s blaze began when youths set fire to mattresses to protest abuses at the Virgin of the Assumption Safe House. The flames swept through the female section of the facility where some of the girls had been locked inside a dormitory after an escape attempt.

“This is a rigid system that has become insensitive,’’ said President Jimmy Morales, adding that there are 1,500 children in government facilities across Guatemala, the vast majority of whom have families.

Morales called for the system to be decentralized. Despite his promises of change, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the seat of government calling for the President’s resignation.

Late Thursday night, in a low-income neighborhood on the outskirts of Guatemala’s capital, relatives and friends gathered for the wake of 14-year-old Madelyn Patricia Hernandez Hernandez. (AFP)