Anti-corruption protests hit Mexico capital
"The New Zeland Herald"
Protsters marched on Mexico City demanding an end to provincial corruption. Picture / Reuters
MEXICO CITY - Thousands of protesters trying to bring down a state governor marched from Mexico's conflict-torn tourist city of Oaxaca into the capital on Monday as the interior minister tried to stave off violent clashes.
Leftist activists and striking teachers have barricaded the colonial centre of Oaxaca for months, hoping to force the resignation of Ulises Ruiz, who they accuse of corruption, heavy-handed tactics and ignoring poverty.
After walking for days, thousands marched through Mexico City's tattered outskirts waving banners and shouting slogans to bolster their leaders' position in deadlocked talks with President Vicente Fox's government.
Oaxaca is 450 km from Mexico City.
Fox has vowed to resolve the conflict before handing power to his ruling party successor Felipe Calderon on December 1.
Fox's conservative government says it will restore order to the city of famed monasteries and leafy squares but is trying to negotiate a peaceful solution.
The Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca, the left-wing alliance behind the protests, says only Ruiz's resignation will end its protests.
''We want Oaxaca to be peaceful again, but Oaxaca cannot be peaceful until Ulises Ruiz leaves power,'' said Fernando Estrada, a leader of the group at the front of the march.
Protesters carried effigies of Ruiz and one group held a black coffin spattered with red paint and the words: ``The bad government is dead.''
Oaxaca was quiet as protesters awaited news of negotiations between protest leaders and Interior Minister Carlos Abascal. They had lifted some barricades over the weekend as a sign of good will in the negotiations.
Ambushes and paramilitary-style drive-by shootings, which protesters say were ordered by Ruiz, have killed at least five activists since the conflict began.
A prominent teacher who had opposed the strike was murdered last week, his throat cut in an attack for which both sides denied responsibility.
The protests, which started four months ago, have strewn Oaxaca's streets with burnt out cars and graffiti, scaring away tourists who provide the city's main income.
Ruiz belongs to a traditional wing of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled the country for 71 years until Fox's 2000 victory and still wields almost feudal power in some of rural Mexico's poorest outposts.
Fox is anxious to avoid violence. But his party needs the PRI's support to counterbalance the leftist coalition that gained power in Congress in the July 2 presidential election despite the narrow defeat of its candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
PRI leaders have made clear they are opposed to Ruiz being forced from office.
Protesters from Oaxaca in straw hats and colourful indigenous blouses were joined by sympathisers from the edge of the city, where many Oaxacans have settled in recent years.
Mexico City is just recovering from mass protests by Lopez Obrador's supporters, who claimed he was defeated through fraud.
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