Mexican senators considering whether to remove the Oaxaca governor in the face of protests accusing him of vote-rigging and using armed gangs against his opponents arrived in the region Thursday to determine firsthand whether the government had ceased to function.
Striking teachers and leftist activists have been camped out in the city since May, building barricades, burning buses and taking over radio stations. The protesters are demanding the ouster of Gov. Ulises Ruiz.
On Wednesday, protesters refused to allow police to take control of the center they have occupied for five months, saying they first wanted a Senate ruling on Ruiz's future in this southern colonial city.
Sen. Alejandro Gonzalez, of the ruling National Action Party, said the violence would not intimidate lawmakers. He said their mission was necessary for the "benefit of the people of Oaxaca."
Gunfire erupted Wednesday when strike enforcers known as the "mobile brigade," wearing hoods and carrying clubs and rocks, tried to take over the offices of a public safety agency in Oaxaca. They had seized the same building weeks ago, beating one of the officials they found inside.
This time they were greeted by gunshots from police inside. Police Chief Manuel Moreno said officers fired into the air, and that there were no injuries. Protesters said two of their colleagues were grazed by bullets.
Earlier in the day, strikers broadcast appeals over a radio station, calling on protesters to step up disruptive activities to prove to the visiting senators that the rule of law had broken down.
"This appears orchestrated," said Gonzalez, adding that the strikers apparently "wanted to create a different appearance" prior to the visit.
If the senators judge that all three branches of the Oaxaca state government the executive, legislative and judicial branches have ceased to function, a Senate committee can call for the removal of the governor.
The Oaxaca state congress, dominated by the governor's Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, vehemently denies this has happened. Ruiz has called for the army to act against the protesters, a request that so far has been denied.