Friday, July 21, 2006

Socialist Losers Take Over Oaxaca, Mexico

ABC News - Protesters have taken over the center of folkloric Oaxaca, making tourists show identification at makeshift checkpoints, smashing the windows of quaint hotels and spray-painting revolutionary slogans. Police are nowhere in sight.

It's not the tranquil cultural gem beloved by tourists from the United States and Europe. A month of protests to try to oust the governor have forced authorities to cancel many events, including the Guelaguetza dance festival.

Most tourists are staying away, costing the city millions of dollars.

The protests follow other eruptions of civil unrest and class conflict that have plagued President Vicente Fox as his term winds to a close.

Supporters of leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador are holding nationwide demonstrations to demand a ballot-by-ballot recount in the disputed July 2 presidential election. Federal and state police clashed with striking miners in April and farm protesters in May, leaving four people dead.

But the clashes in Oaxaca have paralyzed one of Mexico's top cultural tourist attractions, where visitors normally browse traditional markets for Indian handicrafts, hike ancient pyramids and stroll along cobblestone streets to sample mole dishes.

The protests have reduced tourism by 75 percent, costing the city more than $45 million, according to the Mexican Employers Federation, a business lobby.

"Most of the tourists have been scared off. It doesn't look safe when you have to go through a barricade and everybody is standing there with sticks and stones," said Chris Schroers, a German who manages a restaurant in the central plaza. "The police are not here. They don't dare to come into town."

While there have been no reports of protesters attacking tourists, many visitors, including Lorena Valles, a 43-year-old from El Paso, Texas, have felt intimidated.

"There were people with masks and sticks and slingshots breaking the auditorium windows and setting the building on fire. That was kind of scary," Valles said. "The people here are normally very nice."

The protest leaders, a mix of trade unionists and leftists, say their fight is not with the tourists but with Gov. Ulises Ruiz, whom they accuse of rigging the state election in 2004 and using force to repress dissent. Ruiz belongs to the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has governed the state since 1929.

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