Monday, January 8, 2007

October 27, 2006: Protesters in southern Mexico block highways, beef up barricades

Protesters cut off highways and beefed up street barricades in the southern city of Oaxaca on Friday, vowing not to abandon their fight to oust the state governor even though their movement appears to be splintering.

The blockade of four main roads into this colonial city, one of Mexico's top tourist destinations, came a day after teachers agreed to end their 5-month-old strike that has kept 1.3 million children out of classes in the state of Oaxaca a move expected to take the sting out of the anti-government protests.

The teachers have been camped out in Oaxaca city's colonial center since May when they first walked out to demand higher pay and better working conditions.

After police attacked one of their demonstrations in June, they extended their demands to include a call for the resignation of Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz. They were joined by leftists, students and Indian groups who accuse Ruiz of rigging the 2004 election to win office and sending groups of thugs to attack his opponents.

The protesters have since formed the Oaxaca People's Assembly and promise continued acts of civil disobedience until Ruiz steps down despite the agreement to end the teachers' strike.

On Thursday, some 31,000 teachers voted to end their walkout, union secretary Ezequiel Rosales said. More than 20,000 voted to continue the strike.

Union leaders said they planned to meet with Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal in Mexico City on Friday to hammer out conditions for their return to classes.

Rosales said the teachers would demand that the government guarantee the safety of returning teachers, who fear reprisals from Ruiz supporters. Union leaders also are seeking the release of four jailed protesters and the cancellation of outstanding arrest warrants against demonstrators.

Mexico's Attorney General Daniel Cabeza de Vaca said this week that he had issued arrest warrants for at least 10 protesters accused of damaging buildings and blocking streets.

In recent months, demonstrators have put up barricades, burned buses, taken over radio stations and chased the police out of town. Armed groups of protesters and other residents patrol the streets instead, frequently capturing and beating suspected criminals.

Police and armed gangs have led sporadic attacks on the protesters, and at least five people have been killed in violence related to the unrest.

Ruiz has repeatedly asked federal authorities to send troops to restore order, but the government of President Vicente Fox has insisted on trying to solve the dispute through negotiations.

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