Mexico City bomb blasts hit court, party HQ, bank


November 6, 2006

Police survey damage to a bank after an explosion detonated in Mexico City, Mexico, on Monday.

MEXICO CITY, Mexico (AP) -- The Mexican government called for calm Monday after homemade bombs blew up at the Federal Electoral Tribunal, a bank branch and the former ruling party's headquarters in the country's capital.

Police deactivated a fourth explosive before it went off at a second bank branch and were inspecting a suspicious backpack found outside a branch of the Mexican restaurant chain Sanborns, owned by billionaire Carlos Slim.

There were no injuries and no immediate claims of responsibility for the blasts, which were widely dispersed across Mexico City.

The blasts shortly after midnight damaged an auditorium at the headquarters of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. They also shattered windows and caused minor damage at the bank, electoral court and nearby businesses and residences -- rattling nerves in Mexico, which has been besieged by protests since its polarizing July 2 presidential elections.

"We categorically reject these criminal acts aimed at frightening the population, and we're going to work vigorously to clear this up and guarantee security," President Vicente Fox said.

Mexico City Mayor Alejandro Encinas asked residents not to panic but acknowledged the blasts were "creating a climate of uncertainty."

Police intensified security in the city's public transportation system, as well as at the presidential residence, Los Pinos, federal government offices and at the U.S. and British embassies, said a spokesman for the city police department, who was not authorized to give his name.

The explosions came a day after more than 20,000 leftists from across Mexico marched in the southern city of Oaxaca to demand the withdrawal of federal police who were sent in on October 29 to end violence linked to a five-month protest against the state's governor, Ulises Ruiz. Demonstrators claim Ruiz, a PRI member, rigged the 2004 elections and uses thugs to repress dissent.

Protest leader Flavio Sosa said his movement had no ties to the explosions and didn't know who could be behind them.

"We don't condemn anything, but we also don't have anything to do with these acts. Ours is a democratic and pacific movement," he told The Associated Press.

Mexico City Public Safety Secretary Joel Ortega told reporters that emergency officials received two telephone calls warning that bombs were about to be detonated.

Valeano Toledo, 27, one of about a dozen private security guards on overnight duty at the PRI headquarters in north-central Mexico City, told The Associated Press that he was at a different building in the compound when "I heard one explosion, and then a stronger one that shook the buildings, and the windows and glass doors."

He and other guards ran to the site of the explosion, "where we saw a lot of smoke," he said.

The door was blown out and chunks of concrete were scattered among shattered glass. Pieces of the concrete bust of former Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles -- the PRI's founder for whom the auditorium is named -- lay scattered on the ground. There appeared to be little damage inside the building.

The explosion at the Federal Electoral Tribunal building in southeastern Mexico City damaged the first floor and broke second-floor windows, Encinas said.

Two explosions at a branch of Canadian-owned Scotiabank in southern Mexico City ripped through the ceiling and shattered windows.

Ortega said a police bomb squad deactivated an explosive device at a second branch of Scotiabank near the tribunal. The device, labeled "Bomb Danger," was made with a digital watch, a battery and ammonium nitrate and fuel oil.

A PRI representative told radio station Formato 21 the explosions were probably carried out by groups trying to destabilize the government before President-elect Felipe Calderon's swearing-in on December 1.

PRI spokesman Carlos Flores, however, said Mexico's strong institutions "will allow for a peaceful, civilized change in government."

Calderon, a member of Fox's National Action Party, said the violence should be "rejected" by "all Mexicans."

The PRI, which ruled Mexico for 71 years before Fox's 2000 triumph, backed the electoral tribunal when it confirmed Calderon's victory by less than 1 percentage point over leftist Democratic Revolution Party candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Lopez Obrador, a former Mexico City mayor, claimed the election was tainted by fraud and launched a massive protest that clogged the capital for more than a month to demand a recount, which the court refused to order.

In recent years, several small bombs have been placed at bank offices in Mexico. Those explosives were accompanied by messages in which small, radical leftist groups took responsibility.