Wed, Oct 11, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Thousands protest in Mexico City after 19-day march


Several thousand activists from a leftist movement that has largely taken over the colonial city of Oaxaca gathered in Mexico City following a 19-day march from their southern base. Nearby, federal officials tried to negotiate an end to the conflict.

The marchers arrived in Mexico City's main square on Monday to hear speeches of support for their movement from radical farmers and some politicians, before heading to the offices of the Mexican Senate, where they mounted a sit-in protest.

Some of the marchers tried to break past police barricades to reach the Senate building, grabbing and dragging the metallic barricades and engaging in a brief shoving match with security officials before they desisted.

The march was aimed at convincing the Senate to remove from office Oaxaca Governor Ulises Ruiz, who the protesters accuse of rigging elections and using force against them.

In contrast to Oaxaca -- where a coalition of leftists and striking teachers seized control of the city's center in late May, blockaded streets, took over media outlets and erected barricades -- the march into Mexico City was largely peaceful, though it did snarl traffic.

The protesters walked most of the way from Oaxaca, a 350km trek. While the march was peaceful, Mexico City residents fretted about the prospect of yet another downtown street blockade like the one led by leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador that paralyzed a large swath of the capital's center for more than six weeks over the summer.

However, the Oaxaca protesters appeared to block only one or two streets near the Senate offices.

Meanwhile, in another part of the city, talks continued between Oaxaca protest leaders and federal officials, but appeared to make progress on the government's demand that strikers give up control of the city and return to classes.

Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal -- the country's top security official -- said the protesters had suggested they might yield the city to local and state police, if those forces were placed under federal command, apparently because they fear reprisals by local officials.

Abascal said the federal government would be willing to put together such a force "immediately."

"This issue is now in their hands," he said of the protesters, who will submit the proposal for approval. Abascal said he expected an answer in one or two days.

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