RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
In Oaxaca, Mexico, more protest marches are set for today after a tumultuous weekend. The city is best known for its colonial green stone buildings, but it was the scene of clashes between protesters and Mexico's Federal Police. The police were there to restore order after paramilitary forces allied to the local police killed an American journalist and two others on Friday.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Oaxaca.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: By early afternoon, the Mexican Federal Police were ready. With blaring horns, trucks using water cannons helped push back the crowd. Beside them, officers with batons and blast shields were on foot. At first, the protesters shoved back, shouting curses, but they were forced to retreat as thousands of federal troops made their way into Oaxaca.
Jose Luis Ortiz is a teacher who was among the angry protesters.
Mr. JOSE LUIS ORTIZ (Teacher): (Through translator) This is terrible. This is a way of repressing the people.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The conflict in Oaxaca began with a teacher's strike in May, an annual event in which educators would take over the square for a few weeks to ask for more money. This year, however, the new governor, Ulises Ruiz, tried to violently remove them. Other groups then joined the teachers, a broader movement that included housewives and farmers, and more radical elements that took over the city, making it a maze of barricades and vigilante justice. They had demanded the ouster of the governor.
At least eight people have been killed so far by shadowy paramilitary forces allegedly allied to Ruiz. Most of them were activists.
(Soundbite of protesters)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: From early in the morning, protesters have gathered in front of the amassing federal police. They vowed to be peaceful and were full of theatrics, at one point offering white flowers to officers. Others were more sanguine. Three people used their own blood to write messages on banners. The protesters say that theirs is a legitimate democratic movement to oust the man that they alleged is corrupt. Elia(ph) was amongst the demonstrators. She did not want to give her last name for fear of reprisals.
ELIA (Protestor): (Through translator) This people are dying of hunger. And what is the government doing? They're backing up a worthless government.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in Mexico. Its people are largely indigenous. And the elected officials here have a history of heavy-handed tactics. Thousands of Oaxacans, women and children included, were out on the streets yesterday to protest the deployment of the federal police. But there were also some people who cheered their arrival.
(Soundbite of protesters)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: At one barricade that had been erected, local residents argue with the protesters.
Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: One man shouts, how many of us are unemployed, how many of us don't have work because of you? Some businesses mostly related to tourism have had to shut after five months of conflict, leaving people unemployed. The city has not had a police force for months either. And those who disagree with the protesters are often accused of being government collaborators. At this barricade, the dissenters were chased away with rocks.
The conflict here is not just of local importance. It's been playing out on the national stage. The incoming Mexican president, Felipe Calderon, had been pressuring Vicente Fox to resolve the Oaxacan standoff. Fox's term ends in December. It's almost certain that he did not want to finish his presidency with an action that could have led to a bloodbath. But after the death of three people on Friday, including an American journalist, Fox's hand was apparently forced.
(Soundbite of protesters)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The long tumultuous day ended at the Zocallo, the central square in Oaxaca. Federal police fired teargas and pepper spray at protesters who fought back with rocks and metal bars. Some of the younger, more radical elements carried Molotov cocktails, but they were restrained from throwing them.
(Soundbite of church bells)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: As the church bell was rung urgently in the square, teacher Elizabeth Ramos conceded that the federal police was now physically present in the city. But she doesn't believe it is the end of the struggle in Oaxaca.
Ms. ELIZABETH RAMOS (Teacher): (Through translator) Our struggle has to continue, even if we return to our classrooms. It will continue until Ulises Ruiz, the governor, is removed.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Even so, protesters ended up abandoning the plaza that had been the symbolic center of their movement. After nightfall, the police entered it and tore down the tents and signs. One person was apparently killed in yesterday's violence. And the electricity was cut to the radio station that had acted as the protesters' communication headquarters. After a turbulent day, the city was briefly silent.
Lourdes Garcia Navarro, NPR News, Oaxaca.
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