Mexican federal police surround university in Oaxaca, clash with protesters
OAXACA, Mexico – Mexican federal police surrounded a university packed with leftist protesters in conflict-ridden Oaxaca City on Thursday, clearing barricades and firing tear gas as the activists showered them with gasoline bombs.The clashes left at least six people injured, including three photographers, two police officers and a protester.About 200 police wearing body armor and carrying riot shields advanced to the gates of the public university, but didn’t enter the campus. Under Mexican law, the university rector must give the police permission to enter. Rector Francisco Martinez read a statement on the university radio station – which is under the protesters’ control – demanding that police withdraw and describing the operation as an “attack” on the university.The federal police issued a statement saying they simply intend to “restore order and peace” on the streets and didn’t plan to storm the school.Protesters with scarves covering their faces were seen running out of the campus and lobbing gasoline bombs, stones and firecrackers at the lines of police.Police, who were supported by helicopters and armored vehicles, hit back with water cannons and repeated rounds of tear gas.Photographer David Jaramillo of the Mexican daily newspaper El Universal was hit in the right arm with a firecracker and taken by helicopter to a military hospital, the newspaper reported on its Web site. He was in stable condition, according to the report.An Associated Press reporter on the scene also witnessed the minor injuries of two other Mexican photographers and two policemen who were hurt when a gasoline bomb packed with glass and nails exploded beside them. None of their identities was confirmed immediately. The radio station also reported that an unidentified demonstrator was injured by tear gas.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.Many of the protesters retreated into the university campus on Sunday after thousands of federal police swept into Oaxaca center firing tear gas and tearing down camps and barricades. It was unclear exactly how many remained there.Other activists still occupy a plaza several blocks away since police chased them out of the main central square, the Zocalo. And the university radio station is broadcasting messages supporting the protests and calling for federal police to leave Oaxaca.At least eight people have died in the conflict, mostly protesters shot by police or armed gangs. Among the victims was activist-journalist Bradley Roland Will, 36, of New York, who was shot in the stomach while filming a gunbattle Friday.The state prosecutor’s office said Wednesday that two people were in custody in connection with Will’s death. They were detained after residents identified them as the alleged shooters, and Mayor Manuel Martinez of Santa Lucia del Camino, where Will was killed, said the suspects are officials of the municipality, on the outskirts of Oaxaca City.The embassies of the U.S., Canada, Britain, France and Germany all have issued advisories warning 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. And in outlying towns known for unique handmade crafts, the lack of income for artisans is being deeply felt.”We haven’t sold a single thing in about five months,” said Luis Lazo Mendoza, whose family normally sells three or four hand-woven carpets a week. Since the conflict started, the inventory has piled up and money for food and daily expenses is running out.”This is going to take a while to recover, until tourists regain their confidence,” said Pepe Santiago, who carves colorfully painted figures known as “alebrijes” in Arrazola, a small town just southwest of Oaxaca.—Associated Press Writer Mark Stevenson contributed to this report.