Wed, Aug 23, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Protest paralyzes Mexico's Oaxaca


A protester holds up a slingshot as he walks past a burned-out bus during a march of teachers in the city of Oaxaca, Mexico, on Monday.


Normally vibrant and thronged with tourists, picturesque Oaxaca City has ground to a virtual halt as protesters armed with pipes, machetes and clubs roam the cobblestone streets -- burning buses, seizing media outlets and blocking highways and bus stations.

The three-month-old protest -- now almost an insurrection against state Governor Ulises Ruiz -- made many in Oaxaca afraid to leave their homes on Monday, as striking teachers, trade unionists and leftist sympathizers shut down most forms of transport and warned residents it was unsafe to venture outside, even to take their children to school.

"You are running a risk by taking your children to school, to all the private schools," a female protester said in a radio broadcast from one of a dozen seized stations. "For the safety of your children, it would be better not to take them to school."

Barricades of burning tires, scrap wood and metal roofing sheets went up across Oaxaca, as protesters blocked plazas, bus station offices and major roads. With many services in the city center shut down, uncollected garbage began piling up in the streets, and businesses and homes began running short of water, which is often delivered by tanker trucks.

Demonstrators wielding machetes and clubs marched through the city, demanding punishment for an early morning attack in which unidentified gunmen shot up a government-owned radio station which the strikers had seized on Aug. 1.

Strikers said a male teacher apparently was taken to the hospital, but the extent of his injuries was not immediately known.

The state government denied it had anything to do with the attack, which also damaged equipment. Protesters have used the facility to broadcast their demands for the resignation of Ruiz.

Some 70,000 government school teachers went on strike on May 22 to demand salary increases totaling about US$125 million, but the government said it couldn't afford that and counter-offered with less than a tenth of that amount.

The protesters have since expanded their demands to include the resignation of Ruiz, whom they accuse of rigging the state election in 2004 and of using force to repress dissent. Ruiz belongs to the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has governed the state for more than 70 years.

The teachers refused to halt their three-month-old strike to allow 1.3 million students to return to classes on Monday, the start of the new school year. Private schools were shuttered too.

Radio station owners urged the Mexican government to send federal police to restore order.

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