Monday, January 8, 2007

October 15, 2006: Mexico arrests soldier in killing of protester

Authorities on Sunday arrested a soldier accused of opening fire on a street barricade in this protest-besieged southern Mexican city, killing one demonstrator and wounding another.

The soldier identified as Jonathan Rios, assigned to a state army barracks, was detained and questioned before dawn for the shooting, which investigators blame on a drunken argument that had nothing to do with the political dispute that has paralyzed Oaxaca for months.

But protesters who have blockaded streets to call for the ouster of state Gov. Ulises Ruiz said Rios' alleged involvement was proof that state authorities have sent undercover police and soldiers to attack them.

According to a police report, Rios and three other men were driving away from a bar around 2 a.m. Saturday when they came across one of the roadblocks. After demonstrators refused to let them pass, investigator say, Rios climbed from the car and began shooting.

Alejandro Garcia, 41, was shot in the head and died that afternoon in a hospital, while 19-year-old Marco Antonio Joaquin was treated for a gunshot wound to the shoulder and released.

Protest leaders blamed the shootings on Ruiz's government and vowed further unrest if Garcia died. But the streets of Oaxaca were quiet Sunday afternoon, even after news of Garcia's death and the arrest of a soldier spread.

Friends, family members and fellow protesters held a candlelight vigil in the city's central plaza late Saturday and planned a massive funeral for late Sunday.

Garcia was at least the fourth person killed in the five-month-old disturbances in Oaxaca. Two protesters have been shot to death in clashes with police, and last week a teacher was killed by attackers wielding an ice pick. Colleagues said they believed he was slain because he opposed the strike.

Oaxaca, the capital city of the state of the same name, has been on the verge of chaos since May, when striking teachers seized the central plaza to demand wage increases.

After police tried and failed retake the heart of the city the following month, the teachers were joined by various groups of leftists, students and anarchists, building street barricades, burning buses and taking over radio and television stations.

They accuse Ruiz of rigging his 2004 election and using paramilitary gangs to attack dissidents. Negotiations between protesters and Mexico's federal government have so far failed to end the standoff.

Ruiz denies the charges and has called for federal troops to restore order.

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