Thousands marched in this capital on Friday to protest the Guatemalan Constitutional Court's overturning of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt's conviction for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Survivors and families of the victims of military repression led the procession.

Rios Montt was sentenced two weeks ago to 80 years in prison for the deaths of 1,771 Ixil Indians between March 1982 and August 1983 as part of a counter-insurgency campaign.

The three CC judges who voted Monday to void the erstwhile strongman's conviction "defend impunity and attack the constitution by annulling a verdict that adhered to the law," Pedro Tul, a resident of one of the targeted Ixil communities, told Efe.

The protesters - who numbered around 6,000, according to organizers - marched pass the offices of Guatemala's powerful business association, whose directors publicly called for Rios Montt's conviction to be thrown out.

The protest concluded with a sit-in at the CC.

On the legal front, the three-judge appellate panel named to retry the case in accord with the CC's ruling fell apart on Friday as two magistrates recused themselves.

The CC ordered a repeat of the segment of Rios Montt's trial that took place between April 19 and May 10 and the retrial was supposed to begin Friday morning.

Dozens of appellate judges have declined to take part in the process.

Government prosecutors and plaintiffs' attorneys have filed motions with the CC asking the court to reinstate Rios Montt's conviction.

The trial of the 86-year-old Rios Montt marked the first time any Guatemalan ruler was called to account for the massacres and atrocities of the country's 1960-1996 civil war.

Prosecutors say 5.5 percent of Guatemala's Ixils were killed during Rios Montt's rule, which coincided with the bloodiest phase of a conflict that claimed more than 200,000 lives.

Most of the dead were Indian peasants slaughtered by the army and its paramilitary allies. EFE