Tension grows in embattled Mexican city

Gunfire erupted in Oaxaca, where striking teachers and leftist protesters control large parts of the city to demand the resignation of the unpopular state governor.

As the country faces a major political crisis two months ahead of the inauguration of a challenged new government, the Mexican city of Oaxaca confronts a five-month long local political and institutional turmoil that aggravates from day to day. On Thursday, striking teachers rejected a proposal to allow police back in this embattled colonial town, as gunfire erupted when leftist protesters tried to seize a government building, dimming hopes for a quick resolution to the crisis.

Oaxaca locals have taken control over large parts of the city and have driven away the police to demand the resignation of State Governor Ulises Ruiz, who is accused of having rigged his 2004 election setting armed gangs against his opponent. The outgoing conservative government led by President Vicente Fox, had proposed allowing police to resume functions under federal control, but local leaders say they are not prepared to negotiate until Mexico’s Senate rules on the resignation of the hated governor.

On Wednesday, protesters tried to seize or block more state government offices ahead of a visit by a Senate commission trying to assess the conflict. Gunfire erupted when a band of strike enforcers tried to take over the offices of a public safety agency, carrying clubs and rocks. The hooded protesters, known as the "mobile brigade," had seized the same building weeks ago, beating one official inside.

According to protesters, at least two of them were wounded by gunfire coming from inside the building in dispute, presumably fired by unidentified personnel loyal to the local government.

Later on Thursday, the Senate commission arrived in Oaxaca to discuss with protesters an institutional way out to the crisis. "The conflict won't be over until Gov. Ruiz leaves," said Samuel Hernandez, a member of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca who has participated in government talks. "He represents Mexico's authoritarian past. We can't say that democracy exists in Oaxaca as long as he is in power."

The Assembly says that paramilitary groups created by Ruiz have killed up to six activists during the five-month conflict.

Just this week, thousands marched to Mexico City to camp in front of the Senate building to pressure legislators to oust Ruiz. The Senate has the authority to remove the governor if it finds state executive, legislative and judicial branches have ceased to function.

On May 22, a strike for better pay by Oaxaca's 70,000-member teacher's union spiraled into a catch-all protest, with activists occupying state buildings, and radio and television stations, and demanding Ruiz's resignation.

Hernan Etchaleco

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov