U.S. says Guatemala ministry is interfering in election transition of power

FILE PHOTO: Guatemalan President-elect Arevalo attends a protest outside the Supreme Court of Justice, in Guatemala City

By Sofia Menchu

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department said on Sunday it is "gravely concerned" that Guatemala's Public Ministry is trying to undermine the transfer of power to President-elect Bernardo Arevalo, who recorded a landslide victory in August.

The ministry, which functions similar to the attorney general in other countries, raided the Supreme Electoral Tribunal on Friday for at least 20 hours to seize boxes holding tabulations from general election voting.

"The United States is gravely concerned with continued efforts to undermine Guatemala's peaceful transition of power to President-elect Arevalo," Matthew Miller, a State Department spokesperson, said in a statement.

The U.S. is imposing visa restrictions on current and former members of Congress, justice officials and anyone else who undermines democracy, the statement added.

Guatemala's government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Public Ministry said that it "acts in all cases with objectivity and impartiality to ensure strict compliance with the law."

Arevalo, a 64-year-old former diplomat and congressman, is due to take office in January. He has repeatedly complained of a "coup d'état" and persecution by prosecutors against him and his party, Movimiento Semilla.

"There is no doubt that these actions ... lead to the annulment of the electoral result and the destruction of the democratic regime," Arevalo said Saturday in a public video.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva also on Sunday expressed concern about actions by the Public Prosecutor's Office.

"These events are the latest in a long list of very worrying actions taken in recent weeks, which - taken together - appear designed to undermine the integrity of the electoral process and undermine the rule of law in general," High Commissioner Volker Türk said in a statement.

(Editing by Drazen Jorgic and Cynthia Osterman)