Monday, January 8, 2007

November 27, 2006:Protesters, governor vow to control center of embattled colonial city of Oaxaca

Leftist protesters in embattled Oaxaca City have vowed to re-establish a protest camp from which they were dislodged during running street battles with police that injured at least 43 people and led to 152 arrests.

Equally unyielding, Gov. Ulises Ruiz, whose resignation the protesters are demanding, made his first public tour of the damaged downtown area in months on Sunday and vowed to use "all the weight of the law" against violent protests.

Protest spokesman Florentino Lopez told local media that the demonstrators would set up camp again on Monday in the Santo Domingo plaza after being removed by federal police who used tear gas and water jets from tanker trucks.

The violence broke out when masked youths broke away from a protest march Saturday of about 4,000 people and hurled gasoline bombs, powerful fireworks and rocks at federal police in a failed attempt to encircle the officers holding the city's main plaza.

Police forced back the protesters and then removed them from the nearby Santo Domingo plaza, where they had regrouped after police re-entered the city in late October, ending a five-month takeover.

The federal police, who have largely remained in the main square and a few positions around the city, said they would actively patrol the city in search of those who committed "direct attacks" against them.

In a statement, the police said four of their officers and several bystanders were injured in the confrontation and accused outside activists of participating in the unrest that left three hotels were damaged, 20 vehicles burned and several businesses looted.

Some supporters of the leftist movement, the Oaxaca People's Assembly, claimed the youths were provocateurs or government agents, but Lopez told local media they were simply demonstrators who "exercised their legitimate right to self defense."

By early Sunday, the blazes were under control, but flames had gutted court offices in one of Oaxaca's colonial edifices. Later Sunday, protesters tossed gasoline bombs at a tax office.

Federal police said 152 people were arrested. Ruiz put the number at 160 and state prosecutors said that at least 43 people were injured. It was unclear whether that figure included 10 police officers and three journalists who suffered minor injuries in the battles.

On Saturday, residents watched in horror as buildings went up in flames and the streets filled with tear gas and smoke.

Josefina Quiros said protesters loosely organized under the Oaxaca People's Assembly, or APPO, were spreading fear. "We are terrified of the APPO people," she said.

The protesters are demanding the resignation of Ruiz, accusing him of brutality, corruption and electoral fraud.

The fires damaged four buildings housing government offices, one university building and the offices of the state hotel association, which had already seen business from tourism the city's main source of outside income reduced to a trickle by the monthslong protest movement.

Ruiz had blamed the disturbances on radical groups from Mexico City.

"These are the death throes of a movement that has already disintegrated," Ruiz told a news conference.

The conflict began months ago as a teachers' strike, but quickly mushroomed into a broad protest against social and economic injustices in the poor state, in which protesters seized and paralyzed much of the city between May and October.

A majority of the teachers have since returned to work and did not participate in Saturday's demonstration.

Nine people have been killed in the clashes, including freelance video journalist Bradley Roland Will, 36, of New York, who was filming a group of leftist protesters that clashed with a group of armed men.


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