Oaxaca protest turns violent, 150 arrested, dozens injured

From: http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/miami/22133.html

Nov 26, 2006

Confrontation between APPO members and PFP police

Shaken city took stock of its burned out center on Sunday, a day after an intense clash between demonstrators and federal police more than a hundred arrested and at least dozens injured

OAXACA CITY - A shaken city took stock of its burned out center on Sunday, a day after an intense clash between demonstrators and federal police more than a hundred arrested and at least dozens injured.

In the morning, city workers were busy painting over protesters´ graffiti and sweeping up broken glass in the colonial center. Three bulldozers were brought in to scoop up all the rocks thrown by protesters.

At the charred remains of the state court building in Oaxaca City, only the statue of former president and state hero Benito Juárez remained standing, framed in smoke and sharp blades of sunlight that cut through the burned out roof.

"Only Juárez is still standing," commented one woman who stood with her two daughters looking through the window, "It´s as if he is saying, ´We are still here, and we aren´t going away.´"

The court building was one of 34 that were damaged by fires started during the clash, according to government news agency Notimex, which also reported that 20 vehicles were burned. The Camino Real and three other hotels, as well as the Teatro Juárez, also had fire damage.

Local press reported that around 50 people were injured in the conflict, while demonstrators said more than 100 were hurt.

APPO member fires a small rocket to the PFP

Meanwhile, bewildered residents toured the destruction, snapping photographs of burned buildings and broken windows.

"Those people are vandals, the real people of Oaxaca are against this," said one woman standing in the scorched doorway of the state court building. She was referring to the Oaxaca People´s Assembly (APPO), which has directed months of protests against state Gov. Ulises Ruiz, who is accused of fraud, corruption and repression.

Most businesses remained closed on Sunday.

Saturday´s five-hour confrontation began after protesters attempted to encircle the federal police in the city´s main square.

Most of the fighting took place Saturday night on Alcalá Avenue, which leads from the central Zócalo square to the Santo Domingo Cathedral, where the APPO had camped out in recent weeks.

After police forced protesters up Alcalá and out of the city´s center, state and federal police trucks surrounded the protesters. Witnesses said that the police beat and detained dozens. Soon afterwards, gunshots could be heard across town.

State police later used helicopters to transport around 150 people to state prisons outside the city. Family members and representatives of local human rights organizations said they were denied access to the detained.

On Sunday morning, dozens of protesters were hiding out in nearby houses as state and federal police patrolled the city in caravans of cars and trucks.

It was the first time since June 14 that uniformed local and state police officers patrolled the city.

Just before noon, several hundred Ruiz supporters marched through the city center, calling for the arrests of APPO members. Soon afterwards Ruiz briefly toured the Santo Domingo area and spoke to members of the press, saying the demonstrators would be prosecuted for the damage. Two police helicopters flew overhead during his tour.

APPO members after he fires a car

Meanwhile, at hospitals across the city, family members began looking for missing relatives. Witnesses who asked not to be named said that plainclothes police swept the hospitals the night before. They reported armed men came and went throughout the night looking for wounded APPO members.

Felipe Gama, director of the Dr. Manuel Velasco Suárez Hospital, said that seven armed men with pistols forced their way into his hospital, threatening nurses and hospital employees. He denied, however, that they had taken any patients with them.

On Sunday afternoon, APPO council members met in a closed session to discuss the previous night´s battle and their next steps. They released a document restating demands that Ruiz step down and the federal police withdraw.

"We are reaffirming here that only after the fall of the tyrant Ulises Ruiz will peace and governability return to Oaxaca," said spokesperson Florentino López.

The APPO denounced the burning of buildings and private businesses the night before, but upheld the APPO´s "legitimate right to self-defense to avoid a massacre," referring to the use of rocks, Molotov cocktails and bottle rockets to fight the police.