Monday, January 8, 2007

October 17, 2006: Activists block government buildings in southern Mexico state

Leftist activists blockaded government offices across the southern state of Oaxaca on Tuesday to pressure federal senators to remove the state's embattled governor.

The protests came as lawmakers in Mexico City met to consider sending a bill to the Senate that could remove Gov. Ulises Ruiz on the grounds that he has lost control of his state.

More than 2,000 protesters from the Oaxaca People's Assembly have blocked Oaxaca's colonial state capital for months, building barricades, burning buses and taking over radio stations. The police have effectively been run out of town.

Oaxaca activists have camped out in Mexico City to support their demands and on Monday about 20 of them began a hunger strike.

Tuesday's blockades in seven Oaxaca towns were carried out by hundreds of activists from the assembly, a mix of trade unionists and leftists. The protesters accuse Ruiz of rigging his 2004 election and sending groups of thugs against opponents.

The senate is divided along party lines over the issue.

Members of Ruiz's Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, oppose removing their governor, saying it would set a precedent that violent protests can overthrow elected officials.

Senators from the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, however, argue that Ruiz is provoking bloodshed and has to be removed.

Three protesters have been killed in clashes with police, soldiers or armed gangs.

Ruiz's fate likely rests with Mexico's third major political party, the conservative National Action Party of President Vicente Fox. National Action senators on Tuesday said they needed more to time to determine their position.

The protests have scared most tourists away from Oaxaca popular for its colonial architecture and unique cuisine costing the city hundreds of millions of dollars (euros) in lost earnings.

Ruiz has called for the federal government to send troops to forcibly remove the protesters, a demand that has been refused so far.

"The government's actions will never leave out dialogue," Abascal said Monday.

The Oaxaca protests began with a teachers strike to demand higher pay in May but expanded into a broad-based movement after police attacked one of the strikers' demonstrations.

The strike has stopped 1.3 million children from going to classes for months.

National teachers union president Elba Esther Gordillo has criticized the protests and threatened to expel the Oaxaca section.

Presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar said Tuesday that Fox supports granting the teachers' demand for wage increases, not just for Oaxaca, but for all educators in poor states. However, the administration believes a raise should be phased in over six years, and it's not clear whether protesters would accept that.

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