Protesters regroup in Mexico

Residents walk between a burned bus and Mexican federal officers in downtown Oaxaca on Tuesday.

The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 12:03 a.m.
OAXACA, Mexico - Some of the barricades torn down by federal police went back up Tuesday as protesters regrouped, and at least one federal official acknowledged that this city besieged by striking teachers and anarchists remained outside government control.
Federal police held the central square, or Zocalo, but schools and most businesses remained closed and residents tired of five months of paralyzing strikes looked on in dismay as protesters used debris, stones and sand bags to block recently cleared streets.
Demonstrators who flocked to the capital city of 275,000 are demanding the resignation of Gov. Ulises Ruiz, whom they accuse of oppressing dissent and rigging the 2004 elections. Many residents, including several thousand who marched in protest Tuesday, just want to return to life as it was before the strikes began in May.
In a sign that tensions had diminished somewhat, the columns of riot-shield-carrying federal police who had blocked access to the central square on Tuesday morning began allowing residents and business owners to pass through it.
"We feel like we have been born again," said Gilberto Ruiz Fernandez, manager of the Azteca Shoestore, which has been closed sporadically during the conflict.
A scattering of people bought newspapers and crossed the square on their way to work as police officers cleaned up rubbish in the area.
"We feel happy, protected and without fear," said Jesus Velazquez Hernandez, a 20-year-old student who strolled across the Zocalo with his girlfriend. "It's been about three months since we've come . . . because of the fear that they were going to rob me."
Just a few blocks away, demonstrators hijacked a small bulldozer, doused it with gasoline and set it ablaze, then hurled rocks at police officers who left the Zocalo to extinguish the fire. Others climbed onto roofs to monitor police, or helped maintain a blockade of the main highway to Mexico City.
The actions came a day after the protesters transferred their operations center to a plaza away from the Zocalo.
Several thousand residents marched in support of Ruiz in a park just blocks from the Zocalo, while others expressed support for police.
"Thank you, sirs, and may God bless you," Maria Elena Zarate said to the officers. "We are going to support these people who risk their lives to protect us," she added, weeping as protesters threw rocks at officials.
Mexico's Congress has joined the calls for Ruiz to step down, passing a nonbinding resolution Monday to that effect. The governor has refused, and is protesting the congressional action in federal court, saying it violates his state's sovereignty.
Although striking teachers had promised to go back to work on Monday, only about 4,000 of the state's 13,000 schools had opened as of Tuesday, none in the capital, Mexican news media reported. More than 1 million children have missed classes since the protests began.
Commuters fought to maneuver around protest barricades of trash, cars and trees, and the Zocalo was guarded on all sides by police with water cannons.
Despite President Vicente Fox's insistence Monday that "social order and peace has been restored" to the capital, at least one federal official acknowledged that had not happened.
"I don't think so," Deputy Interior Secretary Arturo Chavez told the Televisa television network Tuesday morning. "We are moving in stages. We are working toward order."
On Monday, the U.S. Embassy released a statement advising Americans against all travel to one of Mexico's top tourist destinations "due to this increase in violence."

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