Wednesday, November 15, 2006

October 1, 2006: Helicopters hover over Mexico's protest-torn Oaxaca, sparking rumors troops may move in

Protesters fortified street barricades and readied gasoline bombs Sunday as navy helicopters buzzed over this southern Mexican city for a second straight day, sparking rampant rumors that federal forces were planning to retake the area.

But President Vicente Fox's top Cabinet member, Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal, insisted the helicopters and military plane seen during the weekend were running routine supply runs that had nothing to do with the more than four months of unrest gripping this usually charming colonial city.

His comments came after national news media gave heavy coverage to the flyovers.

A headline in the Mexico City daily Milenio proclaimed, "Preparations for war in Oaxaca," while Mexico City's El Universal newspaper reported that helicopters, planes and 15 troop trucks had assembled in Huatulco, a Pacific tourist getaway and military hub a short flight but a long and difficult drive from Oaxaca city.

An official who answered the phone at the Defense Department in Mexico City on Sunday said he had no details about the flyovers or the reported buildup of forces in Huatulco.

Protesters responded to the flights by detonating hundreds of powerful firecrackers, which shook streets and historic buildings and further frayed nerves. Reinforcing barricades with bags of cement and tree trunks, they vowed to beat back any police and soldiers who moved on the city.

Streets were largely deserted on Sunday. Elsa Siguenza, a 73-year-old who ventured from her home to watch a helicopter speed by, said she hopes federal troops move in.

"Of course it's scary to see helicopters," she said. "But we need peace."

Oaxaca normally attracts tourists the world over because of its exotic cuisine, colorful culture and nearby Pre-Hispanic ruins.

But in May, tens of thousands of teachers seized the capital's leafy central plaza to demand wage increases.

The following month, Gov. Ulises Ruiz sent police to attempt to retake the heart of the city. Since then, thousands of leftists, students and anarchists have joined striking teachers, building street barricades, burning buses and taking over radio and television stations.

They demand that Ruiz resign, alleging that he rigged the 2004 election and uses paramilitary gangs to attack dissidents.

At least two people have been shot to death and dozens more injured in clashes between protesters and police. At night, protesters burn tires and stop and search vehicles for plainclothes state agents they say are sent to attack them.

Abascal has personally overseen negotiations to end the standoff, but the federal government has said it will not force Ruiz to resign. Protesters maintain their demand that he leave office.

On Friday, Abascal indicated the situation was nearing a breaking point, saying "everything has its limit and the limit is close."

"It is urgent that (the protesters) stop kidnapping the heart of Oaxaca and its inhabitants," Abascal said.

Meanwhile, the city continues to slide toward chaos. Before dawn on Sunday, a man suspected of driving drunk crashed through a number of street barricades. Protesters hurled dozens of rocks at his vehicle and punched out all four tires. They detained him for hours before turning him over to authorities.

Nearby, gunshots could be heard, though their origin was unknown.

September 28, 2006: Leftist protesters threaten to burn businesses in besieged Mexican city

Leftist protesters have threatened to burn restaurants, gas stations and other businesses that are on a two-day strike to call for federal police to restore order in this historic Mexican city, business lobbies said Thursday.

Javier Chavarria, director of the Oaxaca Restaurants Chamber, said protesters have made the threats in phone calls.

"They have threatened us, saying that if we close they will burn our businesses and many have opened out of fear," Chavarria said.

Protesters also broadcast threats from a radio station they have taken over, saying they were making a "black list" of pro-government business.

Nevertheless, more than 3,000 Oaxaca businesses locked their doors Thursday, according to the Oaxaca Chamber of Commerce.

Leftist protesters have been camped out in Oaxaca since May, building barricades, burning buses and clashing with local police and opponents of their movement. The protest movement began with a teachers strike but has evolved into a broader movement of leftist sympathizers demanding the resignation of Oaxaca state Gov. Ulises Ruiz.

Two people have been killed and dozens more injured in clashes between the protesters and police or armed gangs.

Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal said the federal government would consider using "measured" force only as a last resort to end the unrest in Oaxaca.

"The use of public force is not a whim," Abascal said in the interview published in the newspaper El Universal on Thursday.

President Vicente Fox has waved aside numerous calls from business leaders and Ruiz for federal troops to restore order, noting through his spokesman that the government wants to resolve the situation with dialogue. Abascal is mediating negotiations between the protesters and state officials.

The U.S. Embassy in Mexico has issued a travel advisory warning U.S. citizens of unrest in Oaxaca and many tourists have avoided the picturesque city, known for its colonial architecture and nearby pre-Hispanic ruins. Local business associations estimate the protests have cost the city more than US$300 million (euro235 million) in lost earnings.

The protesters, a mix of trade unionists, leftists, anarchists and students, accuse Ruiz of rigging his 2004 election and violently repressing dissent. The movement gained force in June, when police attacked a demonstration of striking teachers demanding a wage increase.

On Wednesday, the Oaxaca teachers' union voted to continue their strike and support of the protests until Ruiz resigns.

Also Wednesday, thousands of protesters in the city center reinforced barricades made of tires and corrugated iron and piled up dozens of Molotov cocktails, apparently anticipating some sort of police action.

September 26, 2006: Gunmen exchange fire with protesters outside hotel in historic Mexican city

Gunmen exchanged fire with leftist protesters outside Oaxaca's Camino Real hotel, injuring two men and forcing dozens of tourists, residents and journalists to run for cover.

On Monday, a day after the gunfire, President Vicente Fox's spokesman Ruben Aguilar said officials "absolutely promise that the problem in Oaxaca will be resolved before this administration ends" on Dec. 1.

The clash at the hotel came hours after the U.S. Embassy in Mexico renewed a warning to U.S. citizens traveling to Oaxaca, where protesters have camped out for months, burned buses and fought pitched battles with police.

About 300 demonstrators armed with machetes, knives and pipes descended on the Camino Real searching for Oaxaca state Gov. Ulises Ruiz, whose resignation they demand. They accuse him of rigging the 2004 election to win office and violently repressing dissent.

Thirty protesters searched room by room for the governor, who later said he had been at a nearby restaurant but never went inside the hotel.

A group of about 40 men armed with sticks and guns then attacked and fired at the protesters outside the hotel's front door. Some protesters drew guns and returned fire, creating panic among dozens of people in the street.

Zenen Bravo, a spokesman for the Oaxaca People's Assembly, which is coordinating the protests, said one demonstrator was shot in the elbow and another had been beaten with sticks. Bravo accused the governor of being behind the armed group.

Ruiz denied that and condemned the violence.

"We cannot tolerate these acts of vandalism and aggression against Oaxacan citizens," he said.

Hours before the confrontation Sunday, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico extended an existing advisory for U.S. citizens heading to Oaxaca city, saying they should "consider carefully the risk of travel at this time due to the recent increase in violence there."

The embassy also said it had received reports of robberies and assaults in the city, which normally has a low crime rate and is popular with tourists for its cobblestoned streets, craft markets and cuisine. The advisory warned that protesters might try to close the local airport and that travelers should monitor developments.

Aguilar said at his daily briefing on Monday said the government still encourages tourists "from all over the world to visit Mexico" and added, "There have been no problems with tourists in Oaxaca City or in other parts of the country, despite violence committed by organized crime."

Aguilar said negotiations led by Fox's top Cabinet member, Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal, were ongoing and that federal authorities will not forcibly intervene to restore order.

Asked if Fox would defend Ruiz, Aguilar replied, "He who has been elected by voters cannot be fired by street protests."

Oaxaca teachers went on strike in May to seek higher wages. Protests exploded a month later when police tried to evict teachers from the city's main plaza. Joined by leftists, anarchists and students, the teachers have since taken over government buildings, as well as radio stations to broadcast calls for revolt.

Police and armed gangs have shot at demonstrators on several occasions, leaving at least two dead.

On Saturday, Ruiz warned the teachers that they would be replaced by substitutes and lose their pay unless they immediately returned to work.

Associated Press writers Will Weissert and Ioan Grillo in Mexico City contributed to this report.

August 28, 2006: Oaxaca protesters suggest attack on Mexico City embassies if talks fail

Striking teachers and leftist sympathizers said Sunday they might try to seize foreign embassies in Mexico City if federally mediated negotiations fail to make substantial progress toward ending months of unrest and violence in this colonial city.

The teachers union has led an increasingly chaotic three-month strike that has paralyzed the state capital but which until now has been limited to the impoverished state in southern Mexico.

On Sunday, the union issued a declaration that if talks fail, "it is necessary to carry out actions in Mexico City such as the taking of embassies, pressuring the interior ministry and the Senate."

Rosendo Ramirez, general secretary of a university workers union, said such actions "will allow the Oaxaca movement to overcome its obstacles and become a national movement."

But a top teachers' union leader, Enrique Rueda, was less emphatic, saying only that his colleagues agreed "not to rule out at this time" the seizure of embassies. He did not indicate which might be targeted.

At least 40,000 teachers occupied the leafy central plaza in Oaxaca city in May, demanding pay raises. After state Gov. Ulises Ruiz sent police to evict the strikers, thousands of leftists, anarchists and students joined the protest burning city buses, seizing radio and television stations, erecting hundreds of street barricades and covering buildings with graffiti.

Protesters are now demanding Ruiz's ouster, and two people have been killed and dozens more injured.

President Vicente Fox's top Cabinet member, Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal, said last week that federal officials in Mexico City would mediate negotiations to end the standoff.

Union leaders and a citizen's assembly created to oversee the strike have agreed to talks, but only if Abascal participates and Ruiz is not present. The protesters plan to send negotiators to the capital, 220 miles (350 kilometers) northwest of Oaxaca, though Abascal has yet to announce when talks might begin.

Rueda did not say what the protesters might consider positive results.

"If the interior secretary had acted months ago in a real and formal way, the conflict in Oaxaca would have been resolved," Rueda said.

Fox's government sent two sets of envoys to Oaxaca in recent months, but negotiations stalled after protesters declined to give up their insistence that Ruiz resign something they say they will continue to demand in the Mexico City talks.

Oaxaca is normally one of Mexico's top tourist destinations, but thousands of would-be visitors have shied away since the protests began.

August 22, 2006: Protesters in southern Mexico seize 12 radio stations, block highways, bus terminals

The picturesque colonial city of Oaxaca sank further into chaos on Monday as protesters armed with machetes, pipes and clubs seized 12 private radio stations, cut off highways, and blockaded bus terminals and newspaper offices.

The smell of uncollected garbage and tires burning at barricades hung over the city, a popular tourist destination, and some businesses ran short of water after demonstrators refused to allow water trucks into central Oaxaca.

About 3,000 leftists and striking teachers wielding machetes and clubs marched through the city, demanding punishment for an early morning assault in which unidentified gunmen shot up a state-owned radio station that has been occupied since Aug. 1.

Protesters said a male teacher was wounded and taken to a hospital, but the extent of his injuries was not immediately known

The state government denied it had anything to do with the attack, which also damaged equipment. Protesters have used the facility to broadcast their demands for the resignation of Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz.

Some 70,000 public school teachers went on strike May 22 to demand salary increases totaling about US$125 million (euro97 million), but the government said it couldn't afford that and counter-offered with less than a tenth of that amount.

The protesters have since expanded their demands to include the resignation of Ruiz, whom they accuse of rigging the state election in 2004 and of using force to repress dissent. Ruiz belongs to the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has governed the state since 1929.

The teachers refused to halt their three-month-old strike to allow 1.3 million students to return to classes Monday, the start of the new school year.

Private schools remained closed too, after one of the stations broadcast a warning to parents over a seized FM frequency: "You are running a risk by taking your children to school, to all the private schools."

"For the safety of your children, it would be better not to take them to school," the female voice continued.

The morning attack apparently prompted protesters to seize the other stations, all privately owned. The protesters still controlled all 12 stations late Monday, airing live speeches carrying leftist themes.

Radio station owners urged the Mexican government to send federal police to restore order.

"We consider (the takeovers) an action aimed at silencing the media in Oaxaca," said Oaxaca Media Association spokesman Jose Manuel Angel Villareal. "There cannot be just one voice, one truth in the media."

President Vicente Fox's spokesman, Ruben Aguilar, said the federal government is monitoring the situation but did not plan to intervene, leaving the issue up to the state.

The government of Oaxaca issued a statement expressing "concern about the attacks on news media and journalists," and saying it had handed relevant information to state prosecutors. Ruiz's government has taken little action in recent weeks as protesters seized buses, blocked businesses and shut down roads and highways.

Also Monday, the demonstrators a mix of striking teachers trade unionists and leftists cut off all the main avenues in Oaxaca's center, burned several vehicles and blockaded the offices of two newspapers, two bus companies and a television station.

Teachers took to the airwaves to denounce officials, intellectuals, the news media and others they say have refused to support their cause.

"We're fed up with neoliberalism," one said, using a term for free-market economics. "We are fed up with gringo ecotourism."

The state capital of Oaxaca City, 520 kilometers (325 miles) southeast of Mexico City, attracts thousands of Mexican and foreign tourists each year with its colonial architecture and local Indian crafts. But tourism has suffered as the city's center remains paralyzed.

The protests have erupted in violence on several occasions, and one demonstrator was shot dead earlier this month.

Media outlets also have been attacked by alleged pro-government sympathizers. Earlier this month, gunmen opened fire inside the offices of a newspaper critical of the state government, wounding at least two people.

August 19, 2006: Protesters, striking teachers block major highways to southern Mexican state

A coalition of leftists and striking teachers blockaded all four major highways to the colonial city of Oaxaca on Friday the latest escalation of a nearly three-month-long protest aimed at ousting the state governor.

A man witnesses described as an angry motorist shot a teacher in the shoulder at a barricade, prompting a scuffle in which several people suffered minor injuries.

The teacher, Benito Castro, was treated at a local hospital for his wound, which did not appear to be life-threatening.

Some demonstrators claimed Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz was somehow behind the shooting.

They have been demanding his resignation, accusing him using force to repress dissent and of rigging the 2004 election to win office. Ruiz has denied the accusations.

On Friday, motorists sought to enter and leave the city through secondary roads and streets, but traffic was completely choked at points. Some teachers also asked the motorists for donations to support their cause.

The protesters have already seized the city's famous arch-ringed main plaza, state-run media outlets and government buildings, and have forced the cancellation of the state's foremost tourist festival. They have also hijacked city buses and blocked streets in some parts of the city. At other points they have established checkpoints and demanded visitors show identification before being allowed to pass.

The demonstrators recently also blocked the entrances to banks and businesses.

The teachers have said they will not lift their strike, which began on May 22, to allow the state's 1.3 million public school students to begin the school year on Monday.

The 70,000 teachers originally went on strike to demand salary increases totaling about US$125 million (euro97.6 million), but the government said it couldn't afford that and instead offered the teachers less than one-tenth of that amount.

Tourism revenues have suffered in Oaxaca City, a colorful state capital about 520 kilometers (325 miles) southeast of Mexico City that attracts Mexican and foreign tourists.

Negotiations between the state government and protesters have broken down. Oaxacan artist and community leader Francisco Toledo has proposed a civic mediation team, a leader of which would be former Chiapas Bishop Samuel Ruiz, an outspoken advocate of Indian rights and other social causes.

August 16, 2006: Protesters take 2 police officers hostage in southern Mexico

Two police officers who had been searching for a protest leader were taken hostage Tuesday by demonstrators armed with machetes, the police chief said.

The officers were being held in the jail of the small town of San Bartolo Coyotepec, south of Oaxaca City, and the demonstrators planned to "exhibit" them later in the central plaza of the state capital of Oaxaca.

The hostage-taking was the latest sign of unrest in the southern state of Oaxaca, where protesters have besieged the picturesque capital since June, occasionally clashing with police.

The officers had been searching for protest leader Flavio Villavicencio earlier Tuesday, Police Chief Manuel Moreno said.

But the officers, Jose Luis Diaz and Joaquin Jimenez Ogarrio, told reporters that they were off duty Tuesday and were passing by Villavicencio's house when angry townspeople detained them.

And Villavicencio's wife, who was not identified, said the officers entered her house and pointed a gun at her and her children.

Police officials did not comment on any plans to rescue the officers. Federal officials have thus far refused to intervene.

The unrest began when state police attacked striking teachers who were pressing for a wage increase, and has since escalated to an occupation by thousands of teachers, unionists and leftists out in the historic central plaza. The protesters have repeatedly clashed with police, spray-painted buildings with revolutionary slogans, smashed hotel windows and erected makeshift barricades. Most businesses remain closed and police have pledged not to enter the plaza.

In addition to a raise, the teachers have pushed for the resignation of state Gov. Ulises Ruiz, whom they accuse of using force to repress dissent and of rigging the 2004 election to win office. Ruiz has denied the accusations and refuses to step down.

Also Tuesday, the Mexican Association of Newspaper Editors in a news release condemned the teachers' decision a day earlier to block the national Mexican television network Azteca and two daily Oaxacan newspapers from covering their events, due to the media outlets' alleged alliance with Ortiz.

August 10, 2006: Gunmen attack newspaper in southern Mexico, injuring at least 2

Gunmen attacked a newspaper critical of the Oaxaca state government Wednesday, injuring at least two people in the latest incident in a wave of violence that has driven many tourists from this quaint Mexican city.

Police said one worker suffered a minor gunshot wound in the raid on the Noticias newspaper while another had been beaten. No arrests were made and a motive had not been determined.

Reporter Octavio Velez Ascencio said two assailants barged into the newspaper and attacked employees. Velez said four people were injured but did not provide further details.

In March, a federal judge ordered a union dominated by the state's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party to disband pickets that had shuttered the newspaper's main offices for nine months.

Lino Celaya, a spokeswoman for Oaxaca state security, said Wednesday that the state had since smoothed over its relations with Noticias, and would fully investigate the attack.

Tensions in the city have been on the rise since June, when state police attacked a demonstration of striking teachers occupying the historic central plaza and demanding a wage increase.

Since then, thousands of teachers, unionists and leftists have camped out in the plaza, spray-painting buildings with revolutionary slogans, smashing hotel windows and erecting makeshift barricades. Most businesses remain closed.

The number in the camp varies periodically. There were more than 2,000 Monday, but some events during the protest have drawn several thousand more.

The unrest has paralyzed one of Mexico's top cultural attractions, where visitors to the southern city normally browse traditional markets for Indian handicrafts, hike ancient pyramids and stroll cobblestone streets to sample mole dishes.

August 3, 2006: Protesters who seized Mexican TV station broadcast messages against local government

About 500 women banging spoons against pots and pans seized a state-run television station and broadcast a homemade video Wednesday that showed police kicking protesters out of Oaxaca's main square last month.

The women took control of Oaxaca's Channel 9 station Tuesday and held employees for about six hours before releasing them. It was unclear how long the siege would last and police were nowhere to be seen near the station Wednesday.

The standoff is the latest by demonstrators who accuse Gov. Ulises Ruiz of rigging his 2004 election victory and violently repressing opposition groups.

Station director Mercedes Rojas said the state has filed a criminal complaint with the federal attorney general's office, noting that the station has about $54.5 million worth of equipment inside and that the protesters had threatened the 60 employees with violence while holding them captive.

Federal officials have not commented on the standoff.

Tensions have been on the rise since June, when state police attacked a demonstration of striking teachers occupying the historic central plaza and demanding a wage increase.

Since then, thousands of teachers, unionists and leftists have camped out in the plaza, spray-painting buildings with revolutionary slogans, smashing hotel windows and erecting makeshift barricades. Most businesses remain closed.

The unrest has paralyzed one of Mexico's top cultural attractions, where visitors to the southern city normally browse traditional markets for Indian handicrafts, hike ancient pyramids and stroll cobblestone streets to sample mole dishes. Officials recently canceled a prominent cultural festival because of fears that violence could injure tourists and residents.

Tourism is down 75 percent, costing the city more than $45 million, according to the Mexican Employers Federation. Business leaders have asked the federal government to intervene, but aides to President Vicente Fox have said the problem must be resolved at the state level.

July 24, 2006: Gunmen attack student radio station in escalating confrontation in historic Mexican city

Gunmen attacked a university radio station that has backed efforts to oust the Oaxaca state governor, as violence flared once more in protests that has driven many tourists from this colonial city.

The unidentified assailants fired rounds of gunfire into the station's windows while it was broadcasting late Saturday, the Oaxaca state government said in a news release. Nobody was hurt in the attack.

Witnesses said the attack was carried out by at least 10 assailants wearing ski masks, who drove up in three trucks and used automatic rifles.

The radio station at Oaxaca's university has supported protests aimed at ousting state governor Ulises Ruiz, who is accused of rigging the election to win office in 2004 and violently repressing dissent.

Teachers Union leader Enrique Rueda, who is one of the protest leaders, accused Ruiz of being behind the shooting.

Ruiz "has always responded to popular protests with aggression, threats, repression, and authoritarianism," Rueda said.

In a statement, Ruiz's office condemned the attack and said state government is trying to negotiate with the protesters. Ruiz belongs to the Institutional Revolutionary Party.

Dozens of protesters, including teachers, students and leftist activists, went with sticks and stones to guard the radio station.

With tensions still high on Sunday, an angry crowd abducted and beat two city law enforcement officials after a local radio station broadcast rumors that an activist had been arrested by municipal police.

The officers, who were blindfolded during the incident, were released a few hours later to the Red Cross.

Major protests erupted in Oaxaca in late June after police attacked a demonstration of striking teachers looking for a wage increase of about 20 percent.

Thousands of demonstrators have camped out in the Oaxaca City center, spraying buildings with revolutionary slogans, smashing the windows of a hotel and building makeshift barricades.

Business groups say the protests have reduced tourism by 75 percent and cost them more than US$45 million (euro36 million) in lost earnings. They are asking the federal government to intervene to stop the protests and declare Oaxaca a disaster area so they can get funds normally reserved for areas hit by hurricanes and earthquakes.

Associated Press Writer Ioan Grillo contributed to this report from Mexico City.

July 17, 2006: Striking Mexican teachers force suspension of popular festival

The governor of Mexico's Oaxaca state said Monday that he was suspending a centuries-old, internationally popular cultural festival because of fears that thousands of striking teachers will threaten tourists.

"I made the decision to reschedule the Guelaguetza to avoid the risk of tourist aggression by radical groups," Gov. Ulises Ruiz said over state radio and television.

He did not say when the festival, which had been scheduled to start Monday, would begin.

Hotels in Oaxaca city, a colorful state capital popular with both Mexican and foreign tourists about 520 kilometers (325 miles) southeast of Mexico City, planned to offer alternative recreation plans to guests who came to attend the festival, government officials said.

The Guelaguetza is a weeklong folkloric event celebrating the music, artisanship and cuisine of local Indian cultures and it dates back to 1700. It draws more than 20,000 people each year.

Striking teachers impeded access to the Guelaguetza theater on the Fortin hill overlooking the city.

The teacher's union also has taken over parts of the city's main central plaza and last weekend blocked the entrances to popular hotels as part of a protest launched on May 22 for a large, one-time salary increase.

The protests have developed into a widespread call by teachers and their sympathizers for Ruiz's resignation. Ruiz has refused.

Union leader Enrique Rueda said Sunday that the teachers' "good will" had disappeared because the federal and state government lacked interest in resolving the problem.

Catholic Archbishop Jose Luis Chavez has called on both sides to find a solution, but acknowledged that chances for quickly resolving the situation are slim.

"Social peace in Oaxaca is in danger because of the refusal to negotiate from both sides," Chavez said.

July 16, 2006: Striking teachers block hotels in colonial city in southern Mexico

triking teachers blocked four major hotels and the bus station in this tourist-friendly, colonial city Saturday, part of their ongoing battle with authorities as they seek a wage increase.

Protesters flooded the entrances of the Camino Real and three other upscale hotels in Oaxaca city, 325 miles (520 kilometers) southeast of Mexico City and the capital of the state of the same name. While they didn't prohibit guests from coming or going, the blockades prompted some hotel managers to close their doors and turn away potential customers as a precaution.

The hotel protests came as thousands of mostly Mexican tourists flocked to Oaxaca for a festival Monday celebrating La Guelaguetza, a traditional folkloric dance native to the region.

Protest organizers said they targeted hotels in an effort to call attention to the plight of striking teachers, who have staged massive, often violent demonstrations and set up a protest camp in Oaxaca's main plaza since May 22. They demand higher wages and the ouster of state Gov. Ulises Ruiz.

Although teachers did not interfere with balloting during the July 2 presidential election, they did clash with police, block highways and burn buses in the weeks leading up to the vote.

Those camping in the arch-ringed central plaza sprayed buildings with graffiti and blockaded government offices, prompting Ruiz to send in police.

State officials have said they cannot meet the teachers' demands for a large, one-time pay raise and a federal envoy was unable to broker an agreement because teachers' unions refused to drop demands that Ruiz be removed from office.

The strike has left 1.3 million grade- and high-school students in Oaxaca without classes. Damage to the city and its tourism industry led citizens' groups to demand an end to the conflict before the election.

Federal officials estimated the salary increases would cost about US$125 million (euro99 million) and the state government said it doesn't have the money. Teachers are paid on a floating salary scale that hinges on such criteria as education, seniority and assignment.

June 24, 2006: Striking teachers in Mexico say they won't interfere with July 2 election

The leader of about 70,000 striking teachers in southern Oaxaca state said Friday they won't interfere with Mexico's July 2 presidential election, and promised to meet with a civic commission to try to resolve their pay demands.

The monthlong strike has left 1.3 million children in grade and high schools in Oaxaca without classes.

The strikers demanding increased pay have camped out in the arch-ringed main plaza in Oaxaca the capital of the state of the same name and have at times blockaded the offices of the electoral agency here.

Teachers's union leader Enrique Rueda Pacheco expressed hopes of ending the month-long protest before the vote.

"We are not going to boycott the elections," he said. "The conflict has to have an end date, either on the last hours of July 1, or the first hours of July 2."

Responding to the fear that the ongoing conflict could disrupt voting in Oaxaca, President Vicente Fox said there will be no "there will be a great election for everyone." During the elections, he added, "everything will go well, including the elections in Oaxaca."

The teachers have sprayed historic buildings with graffiti around the main plaza, and have demanded the resignation of the state's governor.

Damage to the city and its important tourism industry have led citizens' groups to demand an end to the conflict.

Federal officials have estimated the total cost of the salary increases being demanded at about $125 million. The government has said it doesn't have the money. Teachers are paid on a floating salary scale that hinges on such criteria as education, senority and assignment.

June 22, 2006: Mexico fears increasingly violent teacher strike could disrupt July 2 elections

Striking teachers, some armed with machetes and guns, hijacked and burned buses and blocked highways Thursday in their monthlong battle with the government of the Mexican state of Oaxaca.

The increasingly violent clashes threatened to last through Mexico's July 2 presidential election and potentially disrupt voting in the region.

Police officials said teachers blocked most federal and local roadways in an attempt to stop a march in support of Oaxaca state Gov. Ulises Ruiz, who last week ordered police to force protesters from Oaxaca City's main square where they had camped out to demand a salary hike.

Protesters have called for Ruiz's ouster and mounted the blockades to try to turn back buses carrying government supporters, many of whom were believed to have been summoned by the governor himself.

Mexican newspaper Reforma reported on its Web site that the pro-Ruiz march, which was organized by local business groups, took place after only an hour's delay.

Police said the protesters torched at least two buses, and some attended the blockades armed with sticks, machetes, and guns, police said.

On Monday, the teachers broke off negotiations with authorities and blockaded government offices after federal officials said they could not meet their pay demands.

Union leaders representing the teachers said federal officials told them they would have to negotiate their demands with state officials. But state officials say they can't afford a large, one-time pay hike.

In Mexico, the state and federal governments share responsibility for schools.

Teachers on Thursday were also asking Mexico's Roman Catholic Church to help mediate the conflict.

Some have expressed fears that the monthlong conflict could disrupt voting in Oaxaca on July 2, when Mexico will elect a new president and congress.

Ruiz has accused local representatives of presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's leftist Democratic Revolution Party of aiding and provoking the protests.

Ruiz belongs to Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has governed the state since the party was founded in 1929.

Mexican Deputy Interior Secretary Arturo Chavez told reporters in Mexico City on Thursday that federal officials had no confirmation of Ruiz's allegations.

Chavez said the federal government was urging teachers to restart negotiations with state officials and said he could not do anything about the teachers' demands for Ruiz's resignation.

"He was elected by all Oaxacans, he is the constitutional governor of the state," Chavez said. "As a result, we reiterate our call for prudence and an agreement that we can resolve these differences through dialogue.

Dozens of people were slightly injured in last week's raid aimed at moving the teachers from the arch-lined square, a major tourist attraction in this colonial city of 245,000 about 350 kilometers (220 miles) southeast of Mexico City.

Teachers later re-established their tent city in the square.

January 23, 2005: Authorities suspend warrant against former opposition candidate in southern Mexico

Gabino Cue, an opposition candidate who narrowly lost the governorship election in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca to the ruling PRI party, remained free on Sunday after a theatrical attempt to turn himself over to authorities on embezzlement charges.

The charges relate to Cue's term as mayor of the state capital, also known as Oaxaca, where he and other officials allegedly failed to properly account for millions of dollars in city funds.

"I decided to confront the authorities that are persecuting me and defend my innocence," said Cue, who marched with his wife and more than a thousand supporters from the capital's central square to the state attorney general's office.

A spokesman for the attorney general emerged to say that the arrest warrant had been blocked.

Cue has said the charges against him are part of a campaign by Gov. Ulises Ruiz and former governor Jose Murat to crush his opposition movement.

In the three-way Oaxaca race held Aug. 1, Ruiz beat Cue, who represented a coalition of opposition parties, by a small margin.

But the voting was preceded and followed by a series of odd, violent events.

Prior to the election, Murat said he was the victim of a strange assassination attempt that some say was staged to gain sympathy.

Several days before the election, PRI supporters allegedly killed an opposition activist at a roadblock.

After the Aug. 1 election, peasants stormed and briefly seized a warehouse owned by an opposition newspaper.

Cue spoke only in vague terms on Sunday about the charges he faces, while accusing the governor of protecting Murat from questions about the curious pre-election assassination attempt.

With his term over as mayor, Cue has lost the immunity from prosecution he enjoyed as a public official.

"I thank the political parties that have fought against the political machine of Oaxaca," Cue said. "I will confront those who persecute me politically."