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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's a big day for Mexico. The country is celebrating its 200th anniversary as an independent nation. But this event comes amid much sadness because the country is swept up by a wave of drug violence.

We're going this morning to Ciudad Juarez, where the traditional independence day celebration has been scaled back. This is Mexico's deadliest city, just across the border from El Paso, Texas. Monica Ortiz Uribe reports.

Unidentified Man: Viva Mexico. Viva Mexico.

(Soundbite of cheering)

MONICA ORTIZ URIBE: This is how independence day is usually celebrated in cities throughout Mexico. Just before 11:00 p.m., the mayor proudly steps onto a balcony at city hall carrying an oversized Mexican flag. He addresses a massive crowd of citizens, then shouts at the top of his lungs, three times: Viva Mexico.

(Soundbite of music)

URIBE: This is how Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz has twice marked independence day in the violent border city of Juarez. But this year, his last in office, will be different.

Mayor JOSE REYES FERRIZ (Ciudad Juarez): Well, this year in Juarez, because of the situation we are living in the city, and because it is the 200th anniversary, we decided to change it. We are not going to have music. We're not going to have a massive concentration of the population on the city buildings.

URIBE: Juarez has been battered by drug-related violence for nearly three years. More than 6,000 people have been murdered and residents live in fear. Mayor Reyes Ferriz doesn't want to take any chances. Two years ago, in the central Mexican state of Michoacan, a grenade was tossed into the crowd during the independence day celebration. Eight people were killed and over 100 injured. But Juarez isn't completely canceling its celebration.�

Mayor REYES FERRIZ: No we're definitely not canceling the celebration. This is the 200th anniversary of our country and - so we are going to have a fireworks display like the city has never seen.

URIBE: Fireworks will be launched from six different points in the city, so most Juarenzes won't have to leave their home to see them. There will be no mass gathering downtown. Mayor Reyes Ferriz will still deliver the grito, or cry of independence, but Juarenzes will have to listen to it on the radio or watch it on TV.

Mr. JULIO GUERECA (DJ): (Spanish spoken)

URIBE: Julio Guereca has been a DJ at a local radio station for 18 years. He hosts a popular afternoon show where people call in and chat. Lately the topic of choice has been the Mexican bicentennial.

Mr. GUERECA: (Through translator) People are sad, they feel betrayed. This is an event with 200 years of anticipation. Are we going to have to wait another 100 years to have our big celebration, to commemorate our independence, our liberty?�

URIBE: On a street corner along a busy intersection, a woman sells independence day memorabilia, including giant Mexican flags and noise makers. About the only company she's had lately is her toy poodle, Cucumber.

Unidentified Woman: (Spanish spoken)

URIBE: Sales are bad, she says. Not too many people are enthusiastic about celebrating this year.�

(Soundbite of bird chirping)

URIBE: Sitting in his living room listening to his pet Cockatiel sing, Ambrioso Ramos doesn't blame the mayor for canceling this year. The city just isn't safe, he said. Recently his neighborhood association hired security guards and installed gates with barbed wire to protect the neighborhood.

Mr. AMBRIOSO RAMOS: (Spanish spoken)

URIBE: Ramos says despite the violence, there is still reason to celebrate in Mexico. Tonight he will join his neighborhood association at their own fiesta in a nearby park within the safety of their newly gated community.�

For NPR news, I'm Monica Ortiz Uribe in Ciudad Juarez.

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