- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 29, 2006

OAXACA, Mexico — Federal police with assault rifles and riot shields advanced into Oaxaca yesterday, bypassing or extinguishing barricades of burning tires and tree trunks in this normally picturesque tourist destination that has been racked by five months of protests and violence.

Officers in bulky black helmets lined a highway just shy of a sign reading “Welcome to Oaxaca” and used fire extinguishers to douse flames at a roadblock abandoned by retreating demonstrators.

Flanked by armored vehicles, water cannons and bulldozers and with helicopters roaring overhead, they faced a knot of protesters who yelled insults and readied piles of stones to hurl. Some protesters used syringes to pierce their arms and legs, then paint signs decrying the police in blood.

In other parts of the city, columns of police climbed over burned cars and moved past hijacked tractor-trailers, buses and other debris used to block streets, in their march downtown. Instead of offering resistance, many protesters retreated, pledging a massive defensive in the city center.

Some residents emerged from their homes to cheer and wave white flags at marching police.

What began in late May as a teachers strike in this colonial southern Mexican city spiraled into chaos as anarchists, students and Indian groups seized the central plaza and barricaded streets throughout the city to demand the ouster of Oaxaca state Gov. Ulises Ruiz.

Police and state forces, often in plain clothes, have shot at protesters, setting off clashes in which at least eight persons have died.

President Vicente Fox, who leaves office Dec. 1, resisted repeated calls to send federal forces to Oaxaca until Saturday, a day after gunfire killed a U.S. activist-journalist and two residents.

Although some protesters retreated, others fortified their posts at street blockades, pledging a street-by-street defense against the Federal Preventive Police. Bertha Munoz, one of the movement’s leaders, said many of the demonstrators were peaceful.

“How can we confront them? We have already seen the R-15 [rifles] and AK-47s they carry,” she said. “What do our people have? Most have just come to bring them flowers.”

The Interior Department issued an ominous statement demanding that protesters give up their occupation of the city immediately, but officials said yesterday that they hoped negotiations could avoid further bloodshed.

Protesters accused Mr. Ruiz of rigging his 2004 election and using thugs to kill or intimidate political opponents. They say they will not return home without his resignation.

In Mexico City, several hundred supporters of the Oaxaca protests converged on a hotel where Mr. Ruiz was rumored to be staying, damaging the grounds around the entrance and screaming, “Murderer.”

The protesters estimated that 4,000 federal police officers had taken up positions on the edges of the city. There were no official reports, however, on how many officers were sent to Oaxaca, which is the capital of the state of the same name.

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