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Guatemala's first couple divorce so wife can run for president

Experts call the maneuve "unethical" and "immoral"

In a bid seen as a political maneuver ahead of this year's election, Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom and his wife, First Lady Sandra Torres, have filed for divorce, a top judicial official said Monday.

The divorce is seen by many political observers as a move by the couple that would allow the first lady to run for president. Under Guatemala's Constitution, close family members of the president cannot run for top office.

Although the petition for divorce was confirmed by a judicial officer, Edwin Escobar, presidential spokesman Giusseppe Calvinisti said he had no information concerning the first couple's split.

Fernando Barillas, a leader of the National United Hope party (UNE), which is expected to nominate Torres as its candidate, denied that Colom and his wife were divorcing.

But just hours before Escobar made the announcement, opposition leader Roxanna Baldetti, of the Patriot Party, warned that the couple was planning to officially split so that Torres could run.

Constitutional experts called the maneuver "unethical" and "immoral."

"No president should be allowed to dissolve their marriage. To me, her campaign has just fallen apart because of this immoral act. She is trying to say that marriage, which is the foundation of the family, shouldn't apply to presidential candidates," said lawyer Carlos Molina Mencos.

Escobar said that the couple filed for a divorce on March 11, but he declined to name the president and first lady's lawyers.

Reaction to the news was fierce. "In the first place, it is sad that the love for power has replaced the love of her," said Zury Ríos, a lawmaker from the Frente Republicano Guatemalteco. "One can divorce for many reasons, but to do so for the love of power is inconceivable."

In February, the UNE held its first rally, which Torres attended, with many supporters holding up campaign posters carrying her picture. The election is scheduled for September.