Monday, January 8, 2007

October 23, 2006: Strike vote divides teachers in besieged Mexican city, prolonging protests

Striking teachers in this southern Mexican city remained divided over whether to end a five-month walkout, prolonging protests that have triggered violent clashes and driven tourists out of this historic city.

After an all-night meeting in a Oaxaca hotel, a majority of union delegates voted Sunday morning to end the strike, which is affecting 1.3 million children across Oaxaca state. But the vote was quickly annulled by advocates of continuing the strike who alleged manipulated by union leader Enrique Rueda, who has called for the teachers to get back to work.

Teachers now plan to meet to hold another vote in the coming days.

Leftist protesters surrounded the hotel waving banners calling Rueda a "traitor" and "sellout" and threw stones at him when he entered the meeting. He was guarded as he left.

Late Sunday, Mexico's Interior Department released a statement urging teachers to go back to work to allow Oaxacan children to return to school.

Teachers began their strike in May to demand better pay and work conditions in one of Mexico's poorest states.

In June, police attacked one of their demonstrations in this colonial city, 350 kilometers (220 miles) southeast of the Mexican capital, and the teachers added to their demands the resignation of Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz.

Soon they were joined by leftists, students and Indian groups, who accuse Ruiz of rigging the 2004 election to win office and of sending armed thugs against his opponents.

The protesters blocked streets, chased police out of the center of the city, burned buses and took over radio stations.

Five people have been killed by police or armed groups. The unrest has scared away tourists, costing the city more than US$300 million (euro238 million), according to local business associations.

On Thursday, the federal Senate voted that there were no grounds to remove Ruiz from office. On Saturday, about 1,000 protesters marched to the Senate headquarters in Mexico City to condemn the decision, saying it could to lead to more violence.

Ruiz repeatedly has called on the federal government to send in the army to restore order but President Vicente Fox's administration has so far refused, saying it prefers to negotiate.

Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal has asked protesters to let local police under federal command patrol the city. The protesters have not yet responded.

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