A U.S. journalist from New York and two Mexican men were killed by gunfire in the Mexican city of Oaxaca, where leftist protesters have barricaded streets and occupied government buildings for five months in a bid to oust the governor. Several other people were injured.
The gunfire erupted in a rough Oaxaca neighborhood Friday when armed men tried to remove a blockade set up by protesters who are demanding the resignation of Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz, said state officials and witnesses. Both sides fired but it was not clear who shot first.
Bradley Roland Will, 36, from New York City, was shot in the abdomen and died later at a Red Cross hospital, police, witnesses and friends said. Will worked for Indymedia.org, an independent Web-based media organization and also sold video footage on freelance basis, said friends and Indymedia colleague Hinrich Schuleze.
Oaxaca Attorney General Lizbeth Cana blamed the violence on the leftist protesters, who she has said are like an urban guerrilla group. She said the armed men were angry residents defending themselves.
"The people are fed up with permanent violence, threats and kidnappings," Cana said.
However, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza said the armed group may have been police.
"It appears that Mr. Will was killed during a shoot out between what may have been local police," and protesters, Garza said in a written statement.
Protesters accuse the governor of sending the armed men against them.
"Ulises Ruiz is trying to massacre our people," said protester Antonio Garcia.
An Associated Press video taken at the scene shows people ducking for cover as shots rattle out from many directions. A group of six men are seen running through the street with Will.
Esteban Zurrita, a resident of Oaxaca, was also shot dead in the clash, said Cana.
The third victim was identified as Emilio Alonso Fabian, whose bullet-ridden body was found about two miles from the clash. Many of the protesters are teachers.
Oswaldo Ramirez, a photographer for the Mexico City daily Milenio was also shot in the foot at and taken to hospital, Milenio said on its Web site.
A second shoot-out erupted between protesters and an armed group outside the state prosecutors office and left three people injured, Cana said.
Protesters have taken over the historic city since for five months, building barricades, driving out police and burning buses. The protesters accuse the governor of rigging the 2004 election to win office and using violence against his opponents.
Friday's clash came a day after teachers agreed to end their five-month-old strike that has kept 1.3 million children out of classes in the state of Oaxaca a move that was expected to take the sting out of the 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 Gov. Ruiz and were joined by leftists, students and Indian groups.
Police and armed gangs have led sporadic attacks on the protesters, and at least six people have been killed in violence related to the unrest.
The lawlessness has led to armed groups of protesters and other residents patrolling the street, frequently capturing and beating suspected criminals.
Will, the U.S. journalist, had been documenting the upheaval in Internet dispatches. His reports showed he had strong sympathies with the protest movements.
"What can you say about this movement, this revolutionary moment," he wrote in a dispatch dated Oct. 16. "You know it is building, growing, shaping, you can feel it, trying desperately for a direct democracy."
Dyan Neary, 25, of Hawaii, an ex-girlfriend and close friend of Will, said he had warned her it the situation was dangerous.
"He told me it was getting sketchy," a tearful Neary said. "He would always put himself on the front lines. He was a courageous guy. He really believed in truth, public awareness and justice. He was an amazing human being."
Neary said Will wasn't easily dissuaded from working on documentaries in dangerous environments. She said Will had traveled extensively through South and Latin America. He had been jailed and had guns pointed at his head, she said.
On Thursday, a majority of Oaxaca teachers voted to end their walkout. Union leaders met with Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal in Mexico City on Friday to hammer out conditions for their return to classes.
After the meeting, the Interior Department and teachers union released statements condemning Friday's violence and saying they were making headway in coming to an agreement.
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.
The conflict has been one of the biggest challenges for Fox, whose six-year term ends Dec 1.
Ambassador Garza urged the administration to resolve the problem.
"Mr. Will's senseless death, of course, underscores the critical need for a return to lawfulness and order in Oaxaca," Garza said.
Associated Press Writers Adam Goldman in New York City and Ioan Grillo in Mexico City contributed to this report.