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Indians in Chiapas protest massacre, police killing

Police line up in jail
The arrested police officers line up outside their cell  

In this story:

January 15, 1998
Web posted at: 12:03 a.m. EST (0503 GMT)

OCOSINGO, Mexico (CNN) -- Thousands of Indians blocked highways and occupied government buildings in southern Mexico Wednesday to protest the recent massacre of 45 Indians and the killing by police this week of a young woman and the wounding of her 2-year-old daughter.

The peaceful protest by an estimated 3,000 Indians came amid increased tension locally and fresh political fighting in Mexico City, where the massacre has caused a deepening political crisis for President Ernesto Zedillo.

"We demand an end to violence, an end to paramilitary groups, and an end to the military presence in our communities," said Juan Vazquez, opposition mayor of this highland village where the state and federal buildings were occupied.

Paramilitaries loyal to Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) gunned down the 45 Indian refugees December 22 for their supposed support of pro-Indian Zapatista guerrillas. Most of the victims were women and children.

On Monday, marchers protesting the massacre threw rocks at police, who responded first with tear gas and then with bullets. Guadalupe Mendez Lopez, a Tzeltal Indian, was killed and her 2-year-old daughter, Isabel, was wounded.

Another demonstrator, Lazaro Lopez Vasquez, 17, was shot in the leg.

Some mourners vow revenge

Mendez was buried Wednesday in the remote village of La Garrucha after a service in a simple church decorated with candles and flowers.

The mourners sat silently through the service, but afterward many vowed revenge against the government for what they believe is its role in the massacre and the treatment of Chiapas.

Nor is the outrage confined to Chiapas. On Monday, an estimated 100,000 people around the country protested the massacre and Zedillo's government.

The government has been criticized for failing to halt police and army violence, especially in Chiapas where many people are suspected of being sympathetic to the Zapatista rebels who battled with Mexican soldiers in January 1994.

The Zapatistas and the government agreed to a cease-fire two weeks after initial fighting killed about 150 people, but political violence between rebel supporters and paramilitaries loyal to the government has continued unchecked since.

"They enter the communities and provoke the people," said Maria Asuncion Hernandez Garcia, 31, in Altamirano, not far from where Mendez was killed.

Zedillo accused of 'dirty war'

Opposition lawmakers in Mexico's Congress say Zedillo is waging a "dirty war" in Chiapas.

"It must be made clear there is a state of war in Chiapas," said Ricardo Cantu, a lawmaker from the leftist Labor Party. "In the face of the government's hardened position there, we urgently need a political solution."

Zedillo angrily responded to the suggestions, accusing opposition parties of using the massacre for political gain.

"It is not legitimate to use something that pains and angers us all for political benefit," Zedillo said in a speech.

Federal agents have arrested dozens of people for the massacre, including a local PRI mayor, and the army has rounded up 29 Chiapas state police officers for the Mendez killing. Tests revealed that 22 of the policemen had traces of gunpowder on their hands.

The massacre has shocked Mexico and led to the resignation of several state and federal officials accused of planning it or allowing it to happen.

Chiapas police to be restructured

Police have been accused of knowing about and concealing the massacre, even as it was going on. The police commander of a nearby village was charged Monday with collecting weapons for the slaughter.

Jorge Albores Guillen, the newly appointed governor of Chiapas, announced Wednesday that the police force would be restructured. He said the plan includes drug and psychological testing; training in investigation techniques, the law, human rights and personal defense; bonuses for good work; and a new communication system for outlying police stations.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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