Monday, January 8, 2007

December 17, 2006: Mexican federal police leave Oaxaca City center in sign conflict is ending

Federal police pulled out of the central square of Mexico's conflict-ridden state of Oaxaca, ending a seven-week occupation that restored order but angered many residents.

The withdrawal Saturday was another sign that six months of protests and street violence that killed nine people, scared away tourists and shattered the historic southern city's economy is ending.

On Saturday, the officers in black body armor packed away tents and sleeping mats and began marching out of the square before dawn, leaving state and city police to keep order.

Lino Celaya, Oaxaca's secretary of citizen protection, said about 2,000 federal police will remain in a military base outside the city in case trouble flares up again.

The protesters, a broad front of leftists, trade unionists and Indian groups, had taken over the center of Oaxaca for five months until more than 4,000 federal police armed with water canons and helicopters drove them off in October and November.

Many residents complained the presence of armored police and equipment cast a dark shadow over the colonial square and was akin to a military occupation.

However, some business owners fear there could be more violence after the police leave.

"What are we going to do without them?" asked Juanita Fosado, owner of a clothing store. "The protesters will come back to burn our businesses."

Federal police clashed with protesters throughout November, arresting more than 200 and pushing them out of all their city bases. Protest leader Flavio Sosa was also arrested, taking the sting out of the movement to oust Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz.

Human rights groups have asked U.N. officials to intervene on behalf of the arrested protesters, alleging they have been tortured and sexually abused in prisons hundreds of miles (kilometers) away.

On Saturday, federal authorities released 42 of the prisoners because there was a lack of evidence against them, according to protest spokesman Jesus Lopez and a federal official who asked not be identified because she was not authorized to speak on the record.

Most of the nine victims of the Oaxaca violence were protesters shot by armed gangs. Activists accuse local police of being behind the killings, and protesters complain that President Felipe Calderon's administration has failed to bring them to justice.

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