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Guatemala appoints new welfare minister after fire tragedy

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Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales speaks during a press conference at the Culture Palace in Guatemala City on March 9, 2017, where he informed about the temporary closure of the government-run children’s shelter in San Jose Pinula, east of the capital where a fire took place on the eve leaving, up to now, 34 girls dead. Guatemala recoiled in anger and shock Thursday at the deaths of 34 teenage girls in a fire at a government-run shelter where staff have been accused of sexual abuse and other mistreatment. Around 20 more survivors remained hospitalized, most of them in critical condition, according to hospital officials.JOHAN ORDONEZ / AFP

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales presented a new social welfare minister Wednesday after her predecessor’s arrest following a fire in a children’s shelter that killed 40 teenage girls.

“Let this tragedy serve to motivate us to bring about the transformation needed so that children can have a different life,” the new minister, Candida Rabanales, said.

The previous minister, Carlos Rodas, resigned on Monday, five days after the blaze in the government-run Virgin of the Assumption Safe Home for children just outside Guatemala City.

The fire killed 19 girls immediately. The others died in the following hours and days, succumbing to horrific burns to their bodies, including their throat and lungs. All were aged between 14 and 17.

Rodas was arrested on Monday along with a former high-ranking official in the ministry and the sacked director of the shelter. They are charged with negligent homicide and abuse of minors.

The decade-old shelter, badly overcrowded, was the focus of multiple complaints before the fire of staff maltreatment, including the sexual abuse of some of the children in care.

It has been temporarily closed, with its 700 children sent to other centers around the country.

The March 8 fire has provoked public criticism of Morales and his administration.

A demonstration was held last week in front of Morales’ presidential palace, and on Monday small groups of protesters abroad gathered in front of the Guatemalan embassies in Panama, Costa Rica and Madrid.

Opposition lawmakers have called for Morales to face criminal charges.

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