Wednesday, November 15, 2006

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.

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