Monday, January 8, 2007

October 21, 2006: Embattled Mexican governor predicts Oaxaca takeover will end within a week

Oaxaca's embattled governor on Friday predicted that the takeover of this colonial city by protesters trying to oust him will end within a week, as a coalition of radical leftists and striking teachers appeared to be splintering.

Protesters demanding that Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz resign have barricaded streets, burned buses and occupied government buildings and radio stations in Oaxaca city, 220 miles (350 kilometers) southeast of the Mexican capital, since late May.

The protesters have driven police from the city, and violence related to the strike killed at least five people and devastated the city's tourism industry.

"I think that in the coming days, in the next week, the conflict will be resolved," Ruiz told reporters Friday. "Oaxaca can't go on like this."

His comments came a day after the Senate decided that there were no grounds to remove him from office the last legal recourse for protesters, who accuse Ruiz of rigging his 2004 election and sending thugs against the strikers. Ruiz denies the accusations.

Union chief Enrique Rueda said following the vote that Oaxaca's teachers would return to work by the end of October, a move that could weaken the alliance of teachers and various leftist groups who joined the demonstrations after Ruiz sent police to try to dislodge the protests.

Many remain convinced the protests should continue, however, and leftists who have taken over private radio stations in Oaxaca broadcast diatribes on Friday calling Rueda a "traitor" and a "sellout."

Oaxaca city residents, meanwhile, welcomed the news of a possible end to the conflict.

"It's gone on too long," said Joel Ayala Dominguez, the owner of a tortilla shop near the city's occupied main square.

The federal government has been loath to intervene, fearing bloodshed, but Ruiz said it was a simple matter of enforcing the law.

"It's not about evicting people or engaging in repression, it's a question of enforcing order, because we've reached the limit," said Ruiz.

Also Friday, Mexico's Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal repeated an earlier offer to have local police under federal command patrol the city.

Both the teachers and the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca, or APPO, which is overseeing the protests, are to hold meetings to analyze their next move.

Rueda said, however, that the union would continue to support the assembly in pressing for Ruiz's resignation; how it would do so or whether that meant pulling teachers out of the protest camps would be decided at the groups' meetings

The protesters and teachers had previously vowed not to consider any other offers from government negotiators including wage raises for teachers, and federal control of the widely distrusted local police until Ruiz left office.

Federal officials have said they want a peaceful, negotiated end to the conflict. But pressure is mounting for a rapid solution, because the dispute has scared off tourists and hurt businesses in the state, as well as keeping 1.3 million schoolchildren in Oaxaca out of classes.

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