Protesters in Oaxaca Make Police Retreat
Associated Press | November 3, 2006
By REBECA ROMERO
OAXACA, Mexico -- Protesters besieging this colonial city forced federal police to retreat from the gates of the state university after six hours of pitched fighting and the rector's call for an end to the government "attack."
The clash Thursday occurred at the entrance to the university, which protesters demanding the ouster of the Oaxaca state governor have used as their headquarters since police drove them from the city's picturesque central plaza on Sunday. Police control in other areas of the city remained spotty.
Reverberations from the ongoing fight in Oaxaca city _ seized five months ago by a coalition of striking teachers and leftist protesters _ also reached Mexico City, where sympathizers temporarily blocked some downtown streets to demand police withdraw from Oaxaca.
In Oaxaca City, about 200 police wearing body armor and carrying riot shields advanced to the university gates and fought the protesters for more than six hours before retreating. The retreat left protesters claiming victory and pledging to re-establish barricades that had been dismantled in previous days.
Under Mexican law, the university rector must give the police permission to enter. Rector Francisco Martinez, speaking on the university radio station controlled by the protesters, called the operation an "attack" and demanded police withdraw.
Federal police said they simply intended to "restore order and peace" on the streets and did not plan to storm the school.
Previous negotiations between the protesters and the interior department broke down, and on Thursday protest spokesman Florentino Lopez demanded direct talks with President Vicente Fox.
A free medical clinic near the university reported that more than 20 protesters had been treated for bruises, cuts and injuries related to tear gas. Lopez claimed the number of injured was much higher.
Ten officers received various gas-fire burns and bruises, the federal police said.
Photographer David Jaramillo of the Mexican daily El Universal was hit in the arm by a large bottle rocket loaded with nails, and was hospitalized in stable condition, the statement said. Another two photographers suffered minor injuries after being hit by stones or nails packed in the rockets, which are about an inch in diameter and six inches long.
The university radio station reported that at least six demonstrators had been arrested and demanded their release.
The university is a stronghold of the movement to oust Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz, who is accused of rigging the 2004 election to win office and organizing bands of thugs to attack dissidents. Protesters including trade unionists, leftists and Indian groups have been flocking to Oaxaca since May to press their demands, and took over the center of the state capital for more than five months.
At least nine people have died in the conflict, mostly protesters shot by police or armed gangs. Among the victims was Bradley Roland Will, a 36-year-old activist-journalist from New York, who was shot in the stomach while filming a gunbattle Friday.
The embassies of the U.S., Canada, Britain, France and Germany all have warned their citizens to avoid traveling to the region. The conflict has shattered tourism in the city, which is popular for its colonial architecture and ancient ruins.
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