Monday, January 8, 2007

October 8, 2006: Teachers in besieged Mexican city reject government offer to end strike

Striking teachers Saturday rejected a federal government offer aimed at ending a nearly five-month strike and protests that have paralyzed much of the colonial Mexican city of Oaxaca.

The teachers said they would insist on their principal demand, the resignation of Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz. Federal officials have said only the Senate can remove a governor.

The rejection of the government proposal is likely to increase tensions in Oaxaca, where leftist protesters have joined striking teachers in erecting barricades, running off police, scaring away tourists and seizing radio and television stations.

Details of the offer have not been made public, but reportedly included the wage increases that originally motivated the strike.

The teachers also demanded that thousands of army and navy personnel posted in Oaxaca leave. The protesters claim the troops are preparing to forcibly retake the city's center.

In announcing the rejection, union leader Enrique Rueda Pacheco said "we have decided to open ourselves to negotiation, but that does not mean we're taking off the table our demand that Mr. Ulises Ruiz resign."

On Saturday, relatives buried a teacher who had been stabbed two days earlier by assailants with an ice pick. The victim, Jaime Rene Calva Aragon, 53, belonged to a group that opposed the strike, and other dissident teachers have accused militant leftists of being behind the killing.

Calva Aragon had apparently angered strike supporters by teaching students at his home during the work stoppage.

"It's not right because he was a good man," Calva Aragon's sister, Marilu, told reporters Saturday.

The violence raised fears that the strikers' intransigence could lead to a wider confrontation. Oaxaca businessmen and others who have lost millions of dollars during the protests have pressed the federal government to restore order.

The protesters detained three police officers on the city's outskirts Friday before releasing them.

Thousands of state police have gathered outside the city in recent days, and helicopters and military planes have flown over the demonstrators.

The teachers also rejected a government invitation for a meeting Sunday in Oaxaca; the main talks have been held in Mexico City. Strike leaders said the government also asked that they return to classes and allow federal police to patrol the city, but the teachers said they would only consider those requests after their demand for the governor's resignation is resolved.

The protesters claim Ruiz won his post in a rigged election and used violence against them in a previous attempt to break up protest camps in the city's picturesque, arch-ringed main plaza.

Both the U.S. and British embassies in Mexico have warned their citizens about visiting Oaxaca, which is normally popular for its colonial architecture and ancient pyramids.

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