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THE WORLD

Hostages Taken in Violent Protests in Mexico

July 12, 2002|From Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — Sixteen people were injured and seven police officers and court officials were taken hostage late Thursday night, after farmers protesting the construction of a new international airport twice clashed violently with authorities in Mexico state.

Meanwhile, supporters of Mexico's two major political parties clashed over a disputed mayoral race in Ciudad Juarez, and eight people were injured.

The first confrontation over the proposed airport began shortly after noon, when a caravan of machete-wielding farmers blocked a large portion of highway near the town of Santa Catarina, about 25 miles northeast of Mexico City.

As authorities arrived on the scene, the protesters began throwing rocks and attacked the officers, Mexico state spokesman Jesus Jimenez said.

Mexico State Atty. Gen. Alfonso Navarrete Prida said six officers were injured in the ensuing battle, including one who was stabbed and remained in critical condition.

Ten protesters were also injured, and authorities made 15 arrests, Navarrete said.

Hours later, a second group of protesters burned piles of tires and used trailers and pickup trucks to block major highways around San Salvador Atenco, 10 miles to the south.

As traffic leaving Mexico City backed up, protesters clashed violently with arriving state forces and eventually captured municipal prosecutor Andres Mendiola and six other police and city judicial officials, Navarrete said.

Jimenez said the second group of protesters torched six police cruisers and threatened to burn their hostages alive unless authorities released those arrested during the first protest.

"The situation there is very, very tense," Jimenez said, adding that negotiations were underway.

Residents are protesting government attempts to expropriate their lands for the 11,000-acre, $2.3-billion airport project, which would swallow up much of San Salvador Atenco.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least eight people were injured, two of them police officers, and four members of President Vicente Fox's National Action Party, or PAN, were arrested.

About 200 PAN supporters blocked one of the four bridges leading over the border into El Paso, Texas, for three hours until the city government released detained PAN activists.

PAN members are protesting the second consecutive annulment of an election won by their mayoral candidate.

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