Monday, January 8, 2007

October 28, 2006: Shootout in besieged Mexican city kills U.S. journalist, two others

A New York journalist who documented upheaval throughout Latin America was killed along with two Mexican men in a shootout in the historic city of Oaxaca, where leftist protesters have been trying for five months to oust the governor. Several other people were injured.

The gunfire erupted in a rough neighborhood when armed men tried to remove a blockade set up by protesters who are demanding the resignation of Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz, said a police official who was not authorized to speak on the record. Both sides fired but it was not clear who shot first, he said.

Bradley Roland Will, 36, was shot in the abdomen and died at a Red Cross hospital, police, witnesses and friends said. Will worked for, an independent Web-based media organization and sold video footage on a freelance basis, said friends and Indymedia colleague Hinrich Schuleze.

Oaxaca Attorney General Lizbeth Cana blamed the violence on the leftist protesters, whom she has compared to an urban guerrilla group. She said the armed men trying to move the blockade were angry residents defending themselves.

"The people are fed up with permanent violence, threats and kidnappings," Cana said.

But 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 accused the governor of sending the armed men against them.

"Ulises Ruiz is trying to massacre our people," said protester Antonio Garcia.

AP Television footage 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.

Oswaldo Ramirez, a photographer for the Mexico City daily newspaper Milenio was shot in the foot 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, the police official said.

Protesters have taken over the historic city since June, 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.

Many of the protesters have been striking teachers.

Friday's clash came a day after the teachers agreed to end their five-month-old strike, which has kept 1.3 million children out of classes in the state of Oaxaca. The strike's end was expected to ease 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 Ruiz and were joined by leftists, students and Indian groups.

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.

The lawlessness has led to armed groups of protesters and other residents patrolling the streets, frequently capturing and beating suspected criminals.

Will had been documenting the upheaval in Internet dispatches for nearly a month. His reports showed he had strong sympathies with the protesters.

"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, said Will had warned her that the situation was dangerous.

"He told me it was getting sketchy," Neary said tearfully. "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.

Neary said Will grew up outside of Chicago and graduated from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania in 1992.

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.

Associated Press Writer Adam Goldman contributed to this report from New York.

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