Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Mexico governor pressed amid Oaxaca protests

By Noel Randewich, Reuters | October 31, 2006

OAXACA, Mexico -- Leftist protesters clashed with riot police in the colonial city of Oaxaca yesterday after Mexico's federal government seized control of the popular tourist spot to try to end months of violence.

Thousands of demonstrators converged on Oaxaca's central square, where federal police wearing body armor stood shoulder to shoulder.

At one entrance to the square, activists lobbed rocks and firecrackers at police, who responded with volleys of tear gas as helicopters circled low overhead and smoke from burning tires filled the streets.

Lawmakers in Mexico's lower house of Congress called on Oaxaca's governor, Ulíses Ruíz, to step down, but he quickly rejected the call. Ruíz's ouster has been the main demand of striking teachers, leftist activists, and Indian groups who have crippled the city with barricades and protests since May.

More than a dozen people have been killed, most of them protesters.

Ruíz's critics accuse him of corruption and using hired thugs to crush dissent.

Thousands of riot police swept into Oaxaca at the weekend, breaking up burning barricades and taking control of the city center Sunday night. One protester was killed in the clashes.

President Vicente Fox had resisted pressure to send federal forces in sooner but changed his mind after at least three people, including a US journalist, were shot dead on Friday, apparently by local police in civilian clothes.

Fox's government said the police would stay in Oaxaca until order is fully restored.

Although Ruíz had repeatedly requested federal forces to step in, the latest violence increased the pressure on him and the lower house of Congress voted overwhelmingly in favor of the motion calling on him to resign.

Lawmakers from Ruíz's own Institutional Revolutionary Party dropped their earlier support for him with most abstaining and only a few voting against the motion.

Ruíz immediately rejected the pressure. "The Chamber of Deputies has no faculty to make this type of call, which violates Oaxaca's sovereignty," he said.

Some residents welcomed the arrival of the federal police, cheering and waving white flags from doorways. One group held up a banner thanking the police for lifting the city blockade.

The demonstrations began with a teachers strike in May and escalated after police tried to break up a protest the following month. Although it is being fought over local issues, the crisis has raised concerns that it could spark unrest elsewhere in Mexico.

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