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As protests over messaging scandal grow, Puerto Rico orders search of governor's phone

Puerto Rican justice officials on Tuesday were executing search warrants for the mobile phones of top associates of Gov. Ricardo Rossello amid a corruption scandal that provoked 10 days of protests demanding his resignation.

Some 500,000 protesters rallied in San Juan Monday calling on Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, pictured during a referendum in 2017, has faced days of protests over a corruption scandal. On Tuesday, Puerto Rican justice officials said they were executing search warrants for the phones of Rossell and his top associates. (Carlos Giusti/The Associated Press)

Puerto Rican justice officials on Tuesday were executing search warrants for the mobile phones of top associates of Gov. Ricardo Rossello amid a corruption scandal that provoked 10 days of protests demanding his resignation.

The sometimes-violent demonstrations, which drew an estimated 500,000 people to the streets of San Juan on Monday, and a federal corruption probe of Rossello's administration are just the latest crisis to rock the bankrupt island still struggling to recover from a massive 2017 hurricane that killed some 3,000 people.

A first-term governor in his first elected office, the 40-year-old Rossello has thus far resisted calls to step down as leader of the U.S. territory, though he said in an online video message on Sunday that he would resign as leader of his political party and not seek re-election in 2020.

"A court authorized yesterday search warrants that are being executed today," Mariana Cobian, spokesperson for the Puerto Rico Justice Department, said in a statement. "Because it is an ongoing investigation, we will not make additional comments at this time."

The warrants targeted Rossello himself as well as the phones of his top associates involved in the chat, Cobian said. She declined to say whether the governor had surrendered his phone.

The publication on July 13 of chat messages in which Rossello and top aides used profane and sometimes violent language to describe female politicians, as well as singer Ricky Martin, unleashed simmering resentment over his handling of devastating hurricanes in 2017, alleged corruption in his administration and the island's bankruptcy process.

Calls for resignation 

The protests were also sparked by U.S. authorities' announcement of a federal indictment involving six people, including two former high-ranking Puerto Rico government officials, charged with conspiracy and other crimes in connection with millions of dollars in federal Medicaid and education funds.

Police fired tear gas to disperse crowds late Monday and early Tuesday while protesters threw bottles and other objects during protests aimed at forcing Rossello to resign.

Police arrest a demonstrator during clashes on Monday evening in San Juan. Protesters are demanding Rossello step down following the leak of an offensive, obscenity-laden online chat between him and his advisers that triggered the island's crisis. (Carlos Giusti/The Associated Press)

Rossello on Monday asked Puerto Ricans to give him another chance.

"I used words that I apologized for but I've also taken significant actions in the direction of helping vulnerable sectors," Rossello told Fox News, explaining he had made policy changes significant to women and the LGBTQ community.

Those two groups were frequent targets of messages exchanged between Rossello and his aides in 889 pages of online group chats published July 13 by Puerto Rico's Centre for Investigative Journalism.

Demonstrators rally in Orlando, Fla., on Monday, July 22, 2019, in support of Puerto Ricans and their demand that Gov. Ricardo Rossello resign immediately. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via The Associated Press)

The island's leading newspaper, prominent Democratic officials, and Republican U.S. President Donald Trump have all called on Rossello to step down.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, an opposition politician running for governor in 2020, said Rossello had run out of time. 

Trump also blasted the "terrible" 40-year-old governor, who is affiliated with the U.S. Democratic Party and with whom Trump feuded in 2017 over the adequacy of the federal response to Hurricane Maria.

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