Mexican Police Advance into Troubled Resort City

A member of the Oaxaca People's Popular Assembly i i

A member of the Oaxaca People's Popular Assembly waves a national flag during a street blockade in Oaxaca on Oct. 29, 2006. Mario Vazquez/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mario Vazquez/AFP/Getty Images
A member of the Oaxaca People's Popular Assembly

A member of the Oaxaca People's Popular Assembly waves a national flag during a street blockade in Oaxaca on Oct. 29, 2006.

Mario Vazquez/AFP/Getty Images

Backed by helicopters and armored vehicles, Mexican police advanced Sunday on the resort city of Oaxaca. Striking teachers and other protesters have occupied streets and buildings there for months. On Friday, gunmen killed American journalist Bradley Roland, and two other people. Protesters accuse the local governor of corruption and suppressing dissent.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Federal riot police moved into the Mexican city of Oaxaca today, trying to clear anti-government demonstrators. The city has been wracked by months of protests, and on Friday, gunmen believed to be local police or paramilitaries opened fire, killing three people.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia Navarro was in the crowd. I spoke with her earlier today.

LOURDES GARCIA NAVARRO: It's an extremely chaotic scene here at the moment. Right in front of me there are trucks and water cannons from the federal police and they're making their way into Oaxaca City. They're using water on the protesters and on foot are members of the federal police with glass shields and clubs, pushing their way, literally, into Oaxaca.

They are meeting resistance. Many of the protesters here are shoving up against the federal police and demanding that they leave Oaxaca, but at the moment they are being pushed back and the federal police is inexorably making its way into Oaxaca.

ELLIOTT: Are people being arrested?

NAVARRO: At the moment, people are not being arrested. This is the very beginning of this operation. The federal police are on foot pushing the protesters back, getting to a barricade, just monitoring it and then pushing forward once again. And up until now, the protesters have fallen back each time. They are faced with at least 200 federal police with glass shields and helicopters overhead, and of course this first wave of federal police coming in is followed by many, many more heavily armed police in pickup trucks and other vehicles.

ELLIOTT: What is that loud noise we keep hearing?

NAVARRO: What you're hearing right now is the protesters launching bottle rockets. It's a system that they've used here for many months as an alert. They're warning that the police are coming into the city and it's also, of course, a tactic to intimidate the police. But they are very ineffective, although they are very loud.

ELLIOTT: Bottle rockets as in the firework bottle rocket that I think of, or as in a Molotov cocktail?

NAVARRO: No, very similar to the fireworks. They sort of explode overhead and leave a plume of smoke. We have seen some of the protesters armed with Molotov cocktails with machetes and with stones. We have yet to see them deploy those.

ELLIOTT: Now, Lourdes, the protest here has been going on for months, but it has escalated since Friday, when three people were killed, including an American journalist. Can you give us the background leading up to this conflict?

NAVARRO: This originally started off in May as a teacher's strike. It was an event that happens every year. The teachers of Oaxaca, who are some of the - among the most badly paid in all of Mexico, would habitually protest, take over the square, and ask for more money.

What happened this year over the summer was that the governor, Ulises Ruiz, tried to forcibly eject them, and that, of course, radicalized the teachers. The conflict has just been escalating and escalating. More groups have joined. It's turned into a broader leftist movement.

And the fundamental desire is for the governor of the state of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz, to resign. They say that he is behind many of the assassinations that have taken place over the past few months. They say that he is extremely corrupt, and they want him to leave.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Lourdes Garcia Navarro in Oaxaca City.

Thank you so much.

NAVARRO: You're welcome.

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