Saturday, October 28, 2006

OAXACA, Mexico — Mexico sent federal riot police to the southern tourist city of Oaxaca yesterday after gunmen killed three persons, including an American journalist, in the latest violence sparked by protests to oust a state governor.

Hundreds of federal police arrived in five planes yesterday morning, a Reuters photographer said. Isolated gunshots were heard in the city, famous for its colonial architecture, cuisine and indigenous crafts.

Three persons, including U.S. independent journalist Brad Will, were fatally shot Friday when men in civilian clothes opened fire on the protesters.

A Mexican newspaper gave the names of the attackers and said they were local police.

About a dozen people, mostly protesters, have been killed since the conflict began five months ago, when striking teachers and leftist activists occupied much of the city, chasing out police and blocking streets in an effort to oust Oaxaca state Gov. Ulises Ruiz.

The crisis has escalated with frequent drive-by shootings on protester barricades.

Critics accuse the governor of corruption and repressive tactics against dissenters, whose hundreds of roadblocks have driven foreign tourists from the city and hurt business.

Mexican President Vicente Fox’s office declined to say if the federal police would try to take control of Oaxaca or look to negotiate a presence in the city.

It is unusual for federal forces to be sent to conflicts in Mexican states, which are the jurisdiction of local police.

Mr. Fox has been under pressure for weeks from Mr. Ruiz and local businessmen to send in police or the army to Oaxaca.

The protesters say Mr. Ruiz is behind the shootings.

A Reuters photographer at the shootout that killed Mr. Will, 36, on Friday said the violence started when protesters blocked highways and burned vehicles.

He said activists’ weapons were limited to powerful fireworks, rocks and Molotov cocktails. Protest leaders called on their supporters to reinforce barricades built from sand bags, barbed wire and burned-out vehicles in preparation for a possible federal offensive.

“People need to rise up with dignity, but we feel a great impotence because we have no weapons,” said Araceli Gaytan, 40, a mother of two guarding a protest camp on the outskirts of the city.

Last week, striking teachers voted to return to classes but many protesters say they will not back down until Mr. Ruiz, who blames the protesters for the violence, is ousted.

In May, federal police were sent to break up protests in San Salvador Atenco, a rebellious town near Mexico City. Twopersons were killed in battles between police and protesters.

Uniformed police have not entered the center of Oaxaca since being fought off by protesters during a failed attempt in June to break up a protest camp in the city’s central square.

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