Sunday, October 29, 2006

Riot police seize turbulent Oaxaca

Riot Yahoo! News - Thousands of riot police backed by helicopters and armored trucks broke up burning barricades to seize Mexico's popular tourist city of on Sunday, firing water cannons to disperse leftist protesters.

In the city's main square, hundreds of activists carrying metal poles and sticks braced for a showdown with the police, who gathered at the four corners of the plaza holding riot shields and wearing gas masks.

Hundreds more demonstrators surrounded six busloads of unarmed police in another part of the city, forcing them to flee and setting fire to the buses.

Mexico sent federal forces to seize the picturesque colonial city, which striking teachers and activists have occupied since May to demand the state governor's resignation, after gunmen thought to be local police shot dead a U.S. journalist and two other people on Friday.

Protesters fled as armored trucks, with V-shaped plows and flanked by riot police, moved on the city center, destroying barricades of burning tires, rocks and old furniture.

They fired water cannon at anyone in their way and SWAT teams with assault rifles followed behind them.

A group of protesters threw rocks at the trucks as helicopters buzzed overhead, and another burning bus blocked a downtown intersection.

Several blocks from the city center, dozens of demonstrators, many using goggles to protect their eyes from tear gas, waited behind a barricade of burning tires, which sent plumes of thick smoke into the evening sky.

"It makes me annoyed that I can't do anything," said Maylet Pacheco, a 26-year-old teacher. "We asked for a solution and this is what they offer us," she said, pointing down the street at advancing riot police.

Mexican Interior Minister Carlos Abascal said the operation was ordered to restore order "after the worsening climate of violence."