An initially peaceful rally over the presumed massacre of 43 Mexican student teachers erupted into violence on Monday in the capital, while the president’s popularity sank to new lows on his second anniversary.
Thousands marched along Mexico City’s main boulevard, chanting for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to resign and waving blackened national flags in anger over the case of the missing students.
They shouted: “You are not alone” to parents of the missing who joined the rally at the Angel of Independence Monument.
“Pena Nieto must resign,” Clemente Rodriguez, father of missing student Cristian, told the crowd after two leading newspapers showed the embattled president’s approval rating dropping to about 40 percent.
As night fell, a small group of masked protesters armed with bats threw Molotov cocktails at banks and broke the windows of several shops along Reforma Boulevard, which is popular with tourists.
Hundreds of riot police protecting the Mexican Senate used fire extinguishers to repel the protesters.
About 15 protesters were slightly injured, a Red Cross worker at the scene told reporters.
Three people, including a 17-year-old, were detained over the alleged vandalism, a city government spokesman said.
Pena Nieto, who took office on Dec. 1, 2012, has faced a wave of protests that have ended in sporadic acts of violence since the students vanished two months ago.
Thousands more protested in the southern state of Guerrero, where a drug gang has confessed to killing the students from a teachers’ college after local police handed them over in September.
A group of protesters ransacked the Guerrero State Prosecutor’s Office in the regional capital, Chilpancingo, and set five vehicles on fire, including two police cruisers.
Families refuse to believe that the 43 young men are dead and demand that they be found alive. Prosecutors have stopped short of declaring them dead, saying they await DNA tests on charred remains that have been sent to an Austrian university.
Teachers and students led another protest in the neighboring state of Oaxaca, where about 1,500 people blocked the airport for four hours, causing two flight cancelations.
Hundreds more blocked access to a refinery and a storage facility of state oil company, Pemex, for several hours in Oaxaca, a teachers union spokesman said.
As Mexicans protested again, a poll published by El Universal newspaper showed that just 41 percent approve of the president’s performance, while the daily Reforma found 39 percent were satisfied.
It was the worst approval rating for a president since former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo in the mid-1990s, underscoring the magnitude of the crisis Pena Nieto is facing.
Pena Nieto announced that he has sent constitutional reforms to the Mexican Congress that are aimed at disbanding the nation’s notoriously corrupt municipal police forces to allow the federal government to take over gang-infiltrated towns.
The president unveiled the plan last week, two months after the students were attacked by police in the city of Iguala, allegedly under the mayor’s orders.
The case has put a spotlight on Mexico’s struggle to end corruption and impunity amid a drug war that has left an estimated 100,000 people dead or missing since 2006.
“What happened in Iguala marks a before and an after,” Pena Nieto said on Monday during a visit to the southern state of Chiapas. “It showed the institutional weakness in facing organized crime, which today has more numbers, weapons and power than in the past,” he said.
However, his plan has drawn skepticism from human rights groups and analysts. They say it is not enough to weed out corruption and abuses across the nation.
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