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Protests intensify as Puerto Rico governor faces ongoing calls to resign

Puerto Rico's governor facing calls to resign

Thousands of protesters marched in the capital for a third day Monday to call for Gov. Ricardo Rosselló's resignation. Police tried to disperse the marchers with pepper spray in front of the Fortaleza governor's residence, which was protected by barricades.

The leaders of the U.S. territory's house and senate said they weren't planning impeachment proceedings, but an influential association of mayors from Rosselló's pro-statehood party said he had lost their support. The backlash comes in response to a profanity-laced and at times misogynistic online chat conducted between Rosselló and nine other male members of his administration.

The leak of at least 889 pages of the private chat has sunk Rosselló into the deepest crisis of his career. In the chats on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, Rosselló calls one New York female politician of Puerto Rican background a "whore." The chat also contains vulgar references to Puerto Rican star Ricky Martin's homosexuality.

Puerto Rican artists Benito A. Martínez Ocasio, known as Bad Bunny, and René Pérez, known as Residente, both said on Twitter they planned to return to Puerto Rico to join the protests. Playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose production of "Hamilton" on the island is mentioned in the chats, called them "a very disturbing portrait of how this Administration operates."

Late Monday, Rosselló released a statement saying he respected the protests and was taking their message into account.

"Unfortunately, despite responsible calls for peaceful demonstrations by many participants, a few others decided to damage public property and assault public officials who tried to preserve order and defend the security and rights of all," he said.

Chatgate erupted a day after Rosselló's former secretary of education and five other people were arrested on charges of steering federal money to unqualified, politically connected contractors.

Secretary Julia Keleher; former Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration head Ángela Ávila-Marrero; businessmen Fernando Scherrer-Caillet and Alberto Velázquez-Piñol, and education contractors Glenda E. Ponce-Mendoza and Mayra Ponce-Mendoza, who are sisters, were arrested by the FBI on 32 counts of fraud and related charges.

The alleged fraud involves $15.5 million in federal funding between 2017 and 2019. Thirteen million was spent by the Department of Education during Keleher's time as secretary while $2.5 million was spent by the insurance administration when Ávila was the director.

Rosselló, the son of former governor Pedro Rosselló, said in a radio interview Monday that "I'm committed to keep working."

"I know some people think differently, but I've determined that it's better to keep working without distraction, dealing with all the different issues that this situation has created," he said.

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