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Mexico's ex-leader cleared in '68 genocide

July 13, 2007|From the Associated Press

MEXICO CITY —

mexico city -- A federal court ruled Thursday that a 1968 massacre of students was genocide but dismissed charges of involvement against former President Luis Echeverria.

Echeverria was interior minister, the country's top domestic security official, on Oct. 2, 1968, when soldiers opened fire on a student demonstration in Mexico City's Tlatelolco Plaza, just days before the capital played host to the Olympics.

Official reports said 25 people were killed, but human rights activists say as many as 350 may have died.

Jesus Guadalupe Luna, chief judge in the case, said the massacre was ruled a genocide "because government authorities at the time jointly conducted a prearranged and coordinated action aimed at exterminating a national group of students from various universities."

But the judge said there was no evidence linking Echeverria to the coordinated killings.

"None, absolutely none, of the evidence provided by the attorney general's office indicates the participation of Luis Echeverria Alvarez in the preparation, conception or execution of the genocide," Luna said at a news conference.

The court also ordered authorities to revoke Echeverria's house arrest, in effect since November.

Federal prosecutors did not indicate immediately whether they would appeal. They have 10 days to file, Luna said.

Echeverria, 85, has denied any responsibility for the deaths at Tlatelolco.

His lawyers said there was no proof that he orchestrated the massacre and insisted that the protesters were killed in the crossfire from "sharpshooters and authorities."

A court ordered Echeverria's house arrest after rejecting the defense's argument that the statute of limitations for the case had expired.

In December, the court ruled there was probable cause to believe Echeverria was directly linked to the deaths of student protesters during the 1968 democracy demonstration. Echeverria appealed, and the court ruled Thursday in his favor.

In July 2005, a judge exonerated Echeverria, who was president from 1970 to 1976, on genocide charges stemming from a student massacre in Mexico City in 1971. In that case, the judge ruled that Echeverria may have been responsible for homicide but could not be tried because the statute of limitations for that crime expired in 1985.

Echeverria suffered a stroke in February 2006 and has been struggling with health problems since.

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