Mexico Congress asks Ruiz to quit


October 30, 2006

Gobernor of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz returns to the capital of the state.

MEXICO CITY, Mexico (CNN) -- The Mexican Congress has called on the embattled governor of Oaxaca state to step aside in a bid to restore order after five months of often violent protests that have paralyzed the state's capital city.

Both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies approved the resolution asking for the resignation of Gov. Ulises Ruiz, who has steadfastly refused to yield to demands by demonstrators that he step aside. The Senate vote was unanimous.

Over the weekend, President Vicente Fox sent federal troops into Oaxaca, in an effort to end the violence.

His action came after three people -- including American documentary filmmaker Bradley Will -- were killed Friday when plainclothes gunmen opened fire on a blockade set up by demonstrators.

The U.S. State Department Monday warned Americans not to travel to Oaxaca, which had been a popular tourist destination before the unrest.

U.S. citizens already in Oaxaca were also told to avoid demonstrations because Mexican law makes it illegal for foreign nationals to participate in political protests.

Protesters marched to the center of Oaxaca's capital on Monday, vowing to retake the city from federal police.

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters driven from the city center by federal police after months of paralyzing demonstrations vowed to retake the main plaza, or zocalo, on Monday.

"Fight, fight, fight! Don't stop fighting!" the protesters chanted before arriving at the central main plaza which has served as their headquarters for months, The Associated Press reports.

Facing off with columns of 3,500 police who blocked their access to the square, the demonstrators screamed "murderers! murderers!" as they lit fires and tossed Molotov cocktails and fireworks that fell short of police lines.

The protesters did not attempt to break through police barricades and there were no direct clashes between the two sides, AP reports.

About 2,000 protesters regrouped in a plaza just a few blocks from the zocalo, saying they would establish that as their base until they could retake the main plaza.

Teachers had promised to end their five-month strike for higher wages and go back to work Monday, but no students returned to classes in the tense capital, AP reported.

Charred cars

The colonial city, a favorite of tourists, more closely resembled a battleground, with streets littered with charred cars and lines of federal police blocking some entrances to the main plaza.

The city is deeply divided between protesters demanding Ruiz's resignation and those wanting a return to the tranquil days when foreign tourists browsed shops and dined on the region's famous mole sauce.

A scattering of businesses, including the city's famous public marketplace, reopened Monday in an attempt to return to normal. As shoppers visited through the market's stalls, stocked with supplies of marigolds to celebrate upcoming Day of the Dead celebrations, others lined up at bank machines. But most of the city remained shuttered, AP reports.

Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal said the federal forces would remain until order had been established and they were no longer needed.

The unrest began in May as a strike by teachers, but the demonstrations quickly grew to include other groups critical of Ruiz, who was elected in 2004 for a six-year term.

The legitimacy of his narrow election victory has been challenged by opponents who accuse the governor of fraud.

Ruiz is a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which dominated Mexican politics for more than 70 years until Fox's election in 2000 helped break its grip on power.

Oaxaca state is located in southern Mexico, along the Pacific Coast. The capital is about 500 kilometers (300 miles) southeast of Mexico City.