Wed, Dec 13, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Calderon commences his crime `battle' in Mexico

CRACKDOWN The new Mexican president began to mobilize the army, navy and police in a bid to fulfill his promise to tackle organized crime


Mexico's newly sworn-in president sent more than 6,500 soldiers, sailors and federal police to violence-plagued Michoacan state to crack down on drug turf wars that have left hundreds dead in a wave of execution-style killings and beheadings.

Felipe Calderon took office on Dec. 1 pledging a "battle" against crime, promising more funds for law enforcement and appointing hardline Interior Minister Francisco Ramirez Acuna to oversee the fight against organized crime.

"The battle against organized crime has just begun," Ramirez Acuna said on Monday, as he announced the administration's first offensive against drug gangs. "We are looking to take back the spaces that organized crime has seized."

Security officials said police and soldiers will arrest traffickers, mount checkpoints and burn crops of marijuana and opium poppies grown in Michoacan's rugged mountains. Navy ships will seal off the state's small Pacific coast, along which smugglers carry drugs on their way to the US. The force will operate 19 planes, 38 helicopters, and four ships.

Hilly, largely rural Michoacan is Calderon's home state and a major drug transshipment point north; police here have reported more than 500 killings this year, about half of which investigators say are linked to a turf war between two rival drug gangs.

Calderon has come under criticism for his proposed budget cuts in other areas, and the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, the PRD, still refuses to recognize Calderon's narrow July 2 electoral victory over the PRD candidate.

But Michoacan Governor Lazaro Cardenas Batel, a PRD member, welcomed Monday's announcement and said he hoped the federal forces would stay.

"We hope it won't be a fleeting presence, that it will be a presence that will seriously reduce the level of violence in Michoacan," Cardenas Batel told local media.

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