Riot police, bulldozers and army helicopters were poised to storm the Mexican tourist city of Oaxaca yesterday, but after talks with leaders of a long-running protest, officials said an offensive was on hold.
Mexico sent the federal riot force to the pretty colonial city, where protesters are pushing to oust the state governor, after gunmen thought to be local police killed three people including a US journalist on Friday.
Hundreds of federal officers arrived in planes on Saturday and prepared to retake numerous streets, squares and buildings occupied by leftist activists and striking teachers since May.
But Deputy Interior Minister Arturo Chavez said federal police would not for now enter Oaxaca.
"The forces are not contemplating any action tonight or in the early hours of the morning, unless the circumstances require it," Chavez said after talks with protest leaders.
The local teaching union agreed to return to classes today and other activist leaders said they were open to more talks but would not back down until Governor Ulises Ruiz resigned.
The protesters say Ruiz is behind recent shootings and accuse him of corruption and repression of dissenters, whose roadblocks have driven tourists from Oaxaca and hurt business.
Chavez said plans may change if violence flared up again.
At least three people, including US independent journalist Brad Will, were shot and killed on Friday when men in civilian clothes opened fire on several protesters.
A Mexican newspaper gave the names of the attackers and said they were local police. The US Embassy in Mexico said police may have been involved in the shootings.
Mexican President Vicente Fox on Saturday ordered federal police to intervene in Oaxaca.
Fox's government issued an ominous statement demanding protest leaders "immediately hand over streets, plazas, public buildings and private property" so that federal authorities can "guarantee public order."
After Fox's announcement, protesters fortified their positions by piling up sandbags and parking large trucks and buses across roads leading into the center of Oaxaca.
Some demonstrators blocked the main highway in from Mexico City, waving Mexican flags and chanting ``Get out Ulises!''
FEARS OF VIOLENCE
``I think there's going to be violence,'' said Eutelma Cruz, a 54-year-old housewife and protester. ``I hope [federal forces] intervene and find a peaceful solution.''
Men also were seen removing broadcast equipment from one of the local radio stations seized by protesters months ago. A second station held by leftists remained on the air, calling on followers to prepare for a street-to-street battle against police.
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.